Gene Wojciechowski

An Interview with Gene Wojciechowski

An Interview with Gene Wojciechowski

“My number one pet peeve is the writer unable to formulate an actual question. What they say is “Can you talk about this?” Sometimes they just say, “Talk about this.” I don’t know where it came from but whoever originated it needs to be gut-taped to an iron pole and lowered into God’s fiery hell – it is the laziest tool in sports journalism.”

“There’s an art to asking a great question…. it’s not the first question that gets the best answer – it’s the follow-up.”

“If you’re a betting man generally speaking the TV and radio guy is going to ask a dumber question than the sportswriter – although it’s more of an even proposition these days.”

Gene Wojciechowski. Interviewed August 30, 2006.

Position: National Columnist, ESPN.com, staff writer, ESPN the Magazine.

Born: 1957, Salina, Kansas

Education: University of Tennessee, BJ, 1979.

Career: Ft. Lauderdale News, 1980-83; Denver Post 1983-84; Dallas Morning News 1984-86; LA Times 1986-95; Chicago Tribune 1996-98; ESPN the Magazine 1998 – , ESPN.com 2005-

Personal: married, two children

Hobbies: golf, hoops

Favorite sports movie: Slapshot

Author of: “Pond Scum and Vultures: America’s Sportswriters Talk About Their Glamorous Profession”, 1990

Q. Do athletes still refer to sportswriters as “Pond Scum”?

A. The Mormons do, the really religious guys do – otherwise there are really inventive four-letter variations of that phrase now. I wouldn’t say they do. But there are all sorts of nicknames and most aren’t things you would mention in front of your Mom.

Q. If you could update the book what would you add?

A. I haven’t reread it. I’d be interested to see if it would feel old to me. I don’t know if I would update it. I don’t think things would change much. The names would change. Some of the stories would change. The general theme I don’t think would ever change. We are considered by some athletes and coaches as a sub-species. And that’s how it’s always going to be. We’re the ones who ask the dumb questions – we’re the pains in the butts. We’re the know-nothings and that will never change. And you know what? Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re spectacularly wrong.

Q. You wrote that no one aspires to become a sportswriter – it just happens. Is that still true?

A. That was the case with me and I guess I extrapolated through the entire civilization. No, I don’t think it’s true. I get e-mails from college kids – I try to discourage them immediately – saying I’d love to do what you do. I counsel them to seek professional care and then I try to help them anyway I can.

I tell them to do the Boy Scout thing. Be prepared. Be prepared to start at the bottom, and to not make much money, and to be discouraged, and to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. And if you’re willing to do all those things you’ve got a shot, if you’ve got talent. I don’t ever sugarcoat it. It’s a different business than it was before. It used to be that a job with a newspaper was set for life if you wanted to stay. There was a different kind of writing – a thing called a ‘takeout’ where you could write a long story and nobody said it was too long. That’s a dinosaur now, which is a pity. And this wonderful bizarre chaotic thing known as the Internet sprang up and that has changed the rules – in a good way – but they have changed.

Q. Do news reporters still consider sports journalism the Toy Department?

A. Absolutely. That is their biggest mistake – it comes from a certain degree of arrogance and ignorance and feeling of superiority. There’s a reason why when the Rodney King riots were going on in LA that the (LA Times) news desk came to the sports desk and assigned writers – I was one of them – to south central LA. Sportswriters are entirely adaptable – we can cover just about anything – because we’ve had to in sports.

I’d love to see Bob Woodward cover a world series on deadline – see him work both clubhouses – I guarantee he’ll have more trouble doing that than I had covering the LA riots. It looks easy – it isn’t.

Q. You wrote that sportswriters are the foot soldiers of journalism, and love it. Is that still true?

A. I think so – especially the beat guys. Whatever they pay the beat guys in this country it isn’t enough and never has been. Especially the baseball beat guys. That was the hardest job I ever had and the best.

Q. Why the hardest?

A. Because it’s every day. Every day. It’s like having to carry a 90-pound backpack up a hill every day. Players don’t want you in there. Managers get sick of you. It’s 162 games plus spring training plus the playoffs if they make it. Your family has to send photos to remind you of what they look like – you’re on the road so much. Covering a losing team is beyond miserable. You’re competing against two or three or four guys. It’s one of the great remaining battlegrounds of sports journalism.

Q. Who are the good ones?

A. The good ones are amazing to me. Paul Sullivan (Chicago Tribune). Mike DiGiovanna (LA Times). Hal McCoy (Dayton Daily News). Tracy Ringolsby (Rocky Mountain News). Phil Rogers (Chicago Tribune) – though he’s now the national guy. They’re all around the country and we take them for granted. And the guys on the Internet: Tim Kurkjian (ESPN.com) is one of my favorites. John Clayton and Len Pasquarelli (ESPN.com) – I’ve been in rooms with them when I thought they would hold a parade because they found out a second team offensive guard got an offer sheet. They were thrilled to get the information – even now they are after years on the beat. When you can still be that excited about something that’s pretty good – it means you love doing your job.

Q. You wrote that athletes are convinced sportswriters are up to no good. Has the athlete-sports media relationship changed since you wrote the book?

A. I’ve learned it all depends on the athlete and writer. If you ask crisp intelligent provocative questions you’ll usually get crisp thoughtful answers and that leads to an understanding at the least and sometimes – not a friendship – but a professional friendship where they learn to respect you and you them – where they begin to trust you and know you aren’t wasting their time and you know they aren’t going to jack you around. I still think most coaches and athletes are suspicious of sportswriters and then they have to be convinced otherwise – if you can you’ll do pretty well in this business – and I’m not talking about sucking up but just earning their respect and trust. And you know what? A lot of times they have reason to be suspicious. We’re not their friends and we’re not necessarily their enemies. There’s a great divide about what they think we’re there for and what we’re really there for – a lot of times they’re not sure. Some players think we’re necessary evils always trying to get a scoop – and we don’t care how we do it – but smart players and managers know we’ve got a job to do and will try to help us do it within reason. Some think that if you’re covering the team for the hometown paper you should be with them – you have to explain you’re not on anybody’s side – you’re there to serve the reader. If I’m a beat reporter I’m there to gather as much information as I can and tell a story every day in every game story. And as the season unfolds I give you context and perspective and analysis – and if that means I have to ask Dusty Baker really difficult questions that’s what it means. Guys like Dusty understand – other guys don’t and never will.

Q. You wrote that nothing annoys a sportswriter like a radio or television person? Is that still true?

A. I don’t notice it as much anymore. But if you’re a betting man generally speaking the TV and radio guy is going to ask a dumber question than the sportswriter – although it’s more of an even proposition these days. My number one pet peeve is the writer unable to formulate an actual question. What they say is “Can you talk about this?” Sometimes they just say, “Talk about this.” I don’t know where it came from but whoever originated it needs to be gut-taped to an iron pole and lowered into God’s fiery hell – it is the laziest tool in sports journalism.

There’s an art to asking a great question. Practice. I have a friend who is one of the top writers in the country. Sometimes he can’t get out of his own way when he starts interviewing. His questions go on longer than the Emancipation Proclamation – you lose the guy you’re talking to. I look at my notes – if it gets painful listening to me ask then I know I’ve gone on too long. I try to keep questions short and sweet – I try to ask them in a way that they’ve never heard. Sometimes I’ll be flippant or smart-assey or try to crack a joke with the question – and other times I’ve learned that if you ask the obvious question everybody else is afraid to ask you’ll get some of the best answers.

I try to put time into what I’m going to ask. But I don’t plan all of my questions. Sometimes I’ll go in cold but I’ll have three questions I’ll build around. If you build a checklist you get married to it and you don’t listen to the answers – if he’s saying something that would make a great follow-up and you’re looking at your list. It’s not the first question that gets the best answer – it’s the follow-up. They’re ready for the first one but the second one might get you something. Watch Barbara Walters or Bob Costas do an interview. Or listen to Rick Reilly follow somebody after a press conference. I see everybody get up at press conferences and walk out. I’m not bragging but I’ve learned that if you get up and walk out with the guy sometimes he’ll stop and say something he won’t in front of 200 people. Tiger Woods will do that sometimes. Meanwhile, seven-eighths of the room will have gone to the press room. That’s okay – they got what they want. I learned working for ESPN Magazine that you have to get something nobody elsea has. Working for dot.com I do some of the same things – not to the same extent – but something – even just to get an extra quote.

I’m lucky if I have six really good friends in the business and we talk about sportswriting all the time. Reilly is my best friend, and we talk about reporting and questioning and writing techniques and devices. Ivan Maisel (ESPN.com). Rick Morrissey (Chicago Tribune). Bill Plaschke (LA Times). We talk about our work.

Q. Is sportsjournalists.com helpful?

A. I read it once in awhile but the fact that it’s anonymous bothers me. So I don’t take it seriously. If they used their names you could have a dialogue.

Q. You wrote that without sportswriters there would be no sports lore. Is that still true?

A. Sure. I would love to compile some of the best leads in the last 10 or 15 years. I think

sportswriters were more celebrated in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s – especially newspaper reporters because that was the central way of getting information. There still is fantastic writing being done – my highest compliment is “I wish I had written that” and I still say that a lot. We have a lot of great writers out there.

Q. Who?

A. Reilly. Plaschke. I love T.J. Simers (LA Times). He’s done something not too many people can do – he’s invented a different kind of notes column. People try to duplicate it but you can’t because there’s only one TJ – he’s the most fearless writer I’ve ever met – he’ll end up in the bottom of the Hudson River one day. I feel bad about trying to come up with a list. Those are the guys I know. Joe Posnanski (KC Star) is good. There are some real craftsmen out there on the websites and in magazines.

Tennessee, where I went to school, has me back to talk to journalism classes. I tell them to read everybody in sports and non-sports related – good writing is good writing. You can apply what you read from George Will’s column to something in sportswriting – the way he sets up a paragraph, the turn of a phrase, the way he finds his theme and carries it along. (The late) Shelby Strother told me a long time ago there should always be a guy walking through a window into your bedroom that you’re not ready for. You have to set the reader up. Always have a strong central theme to carry the story start to finish. There’s a guy named Mike Penner, who still works for the LA Times, and used to cover baseball. I don’t think he liked baseball but nobody could tell a story like Penner. Gordon Edes (Boston Globe) does the same thing – he tells a story every day.

Q. You recently wrote that Tiger Woods is the greatest athlete ever. But golfers are not required to perform in pain. How can he be the greatest athlete ever without having to perform in pain?

A. Well, there are different forms of pain. Woods has had to deal with the pain of losing his father/best friend – and has responded with a missed cut, a second place at the Western and then four consecutive victories, including two majors. I would argue that he responded brilliantly to the mental pain and anguish of losing the man who taught him the game and mentored him for most of his life.

As for physical pain, well, there’s a reason why he subjects himself to some of the most exhausting workouts of any Tour players. Granted, it’s not the same as what an NFL player goes through, but that’s the nature of their respective sports. Tiger puts a tremendous amount of stress on his body. His swing is beyond violent. And while some would laugh – and in a small way I understand why – try walking 72 holes in the July heat and humidity of, say, New York or western Pennsylvania, or Tulsa – and do it with the pressure of trying to win a major (Bethpage, Oakmont, Southern Hills). There’s a reason why they’re drenched in sweat.

But of course, you can’t compare the pain of playing football with the pain or discomfort of playing golf. But almost nothing – conditions, pressure, opponents, etc. – affects Woods. Put it this way: if he were an NFL player and had the appropriate physical skills, I think he’d have similar success. That’s how mentally strong he is.

(SMG thanks Gene Wojciechowski for his cooperation)

Michael Woods

 

An Interview with Michael Woods

“By the end of 2008, we boasted 1.5 million uniques, and 2.5 million visits. The average reader is a hardcore fight fan. There are a good number of those, no matter what the mainstream press might try to tell you, as they bloviate about the death of the sport. It so happens that many, OK, most of the bloviators are Americans, with a xenophobic take on the world. The fight game in the US isn’t thriving, fair to say; but worldwide, people still dig a rousing tussle.”

“My wife would tell you I am spending faaar too much time on TSS, and she would be right, I guess. But my name is at the top of the masthead, so I prefer that it not suck…She is a good lady, who understands that this is my job and my hobby, and she doesn’t moan and label herself as boxing widow. Often, we’ll have friends over to watch the bouts, and she can shoot the shit with them, while I tap away on the keyboard, and occasionally interject into their conversation arc, which is usually ranting about something the GOP did or is contemplating doing.”

Michael Woods: Interviewed on February 8, 2009

Position: Editor, TheSweetScience.com

Born: 1969, Boston

Education: Ohio Wesleyan, 1992, BA, English

Career: milieu therapist (a glorified orderly) in a Boston psych hospital, 1992-1994; telemarketer and call center manager for “a certain company which sells adjustable beds”, 1994-1999; sports and hard news at NY Newsday, 1999-2003; research and fact-checking at ESPN Magazine, 2003 to present; writer, ESPN.com, 2007 to present (boxing and MMA); TheSweetScience.com, 2004 to present

Personal: Married to Jessica, dad to Annabelle, who turns 2 in April, “We live in Brooklyn, with two cats—don’t tell the landlord who thinks we have one–and a dog”

Favorite restaurant (home): Tina’s Cuban Cuisine, midtown Manhattan-“ “Once a week, I get a plate of grilled chicken with white rice and salad and then douse the platter with their green sauce, which I have bribed the waitresses to slip me the recipe, to no avail. It has jalapenos, onions and lord knows what else in it. I guessed mayo, they maintain I am wrong. But I dream of bottling the stuff and becoming TSS editor/condiment king”

Michael Woods, excerpted from TheSweetScience.com, February 8, 2009:

http://www.thesweetscience.com/boxing-article/6550/p4p-ramifications-paul-williams-winky-wright/

It’s hard to make a case for yourself as being one of the pound for pound elite when in your last two fights, you’ve faced off with Andy Kolle and Verno Phillips. Lord knows, I intend no disrespect to either man; Phillips especially has put together a long career, and is seen in all circles as a game, durable vet who will give anyone a stern rumble.

But arguing the case for Paul Williams being among the game’s pound for pound elite would be that much easier if he had gloved up against some of the folks that his promoter Dan Goossen has tried to entice into facing off with Long Tall Paul. If Antonio (The Alleged Master of the Plaster Disaster) Margarito had decided to have another go at Williams (instead of taking $2 million less, as Goossen maintains, to fight Mosley), and Williams had beaten him conclusively, that would make Goossen’s case, that RIGHT NOW, Williams should be in the Top 3 on P4P lists, an easier sell.

Or if Oscar De La Hoya, or Shane Mosley, or Kermit Cintron (before Margarito reached down his throat and extracted his gonads in April 2008) had stepped in with Williams, and the Georgian had taken a couple of them out, then Goossen’s contention would go down more smoothly.

“You can be a Cy Young award winner on a last-place team,” is Goossen’s analogy, and he has a bit of a point. In his view, Williams should not be penalized because the sport’s elite have decided it is smarter for them, both monetarily and perhaps physically, to take less dough and fight anyone. Then again, an ace pitcher on a last-place ballclub gets the chance to stack up against other ‘A’ level teams, and pitchers over the course of 162 MLB games, so we are able to compare and contrast his skill-set.

Anyway, it can’t be denied that the lefty with the freakishly long arms has been avoided like the Madoffs at the country club. “Paul’s legacy and his status among the pound for pound best can’t be based on who won’t fight him,” Goossen maintains…

Q. Tell us what we should know about TheSweetScience.com: content, contributors, traffic, registered users, advertising, etc?

A. TSS, as I call it, because it saves me half a second, is a boxing website. It was born in 2004. We feature features—yes, I know that looks goofy but it cracked me up—on the major players in the sport, present and past, as well as the non-major players. I believe that in many regards, boxing is the sport to which all others aspire. There is no stiffer test for a man or woman than gloving up and testing your mettle. There are no line-mates to bail you out, or fellow all-stars to pick up your slack if you were indulging too much on the road the night before, etc. It’s all on you. Sort of like life. You can argue that a higher power looks over you, and infuses you with energy and courage along the way of course. That’s not really my take. But I digress…

As for content, we offer the best take on the fight game of all the websites, in my hugely biased opinion. That’s because we have some of the best writers in the field. Ron Borges and Bernie Fernandez, between them, have won about a hundred writing awards. I can craft a solid sentence now and again, if I may be so bold. David Avila is a veteran fightwriter who knows the smells of the gyms in his region, the West Coast. That is the core group of contributors, and we have some other rock-solid writers, all of whom respect the game and the ballsy hitters who make the choice to walk up the steps, and get into the ring, half-naked, and test their strength, and skill and will against someone who is looking to separate their head from their shoulders.

As far as readers go, in 2007, 981,077 unique visitors logged on to TSS, and the site was visited 1.7 million times. By the end of 2008, we boasted 1.5 million uniques, and 2.5 million visits. The average reader is a hardcore fight fan. There are a good number of those, no matter what the mainstream press might try to tell you, as they bloviate about the death of the sport. It so happens that many, OK, most of the bloviators are Americans, with a xenophobic take on the world. The fight game in the US isn’t thriving, fair to say; but worldwide, people still dig a rousing tussle. The pound for pound best fighter in the world is a 140 pound Filipino named Manny Pacquiao, and he is as popular as God over there. Maybe more. So boxing ain’t dead, even if the fiftysomething sports editor at the BigCity Daily Herald says it is, because he revered Ali, and stopped following the sport because his stomach got queasy when Tyson ripped off a chunk of Holyfield’s ear in 1997.

As far as registered users, we don’t register the readers. We have a comment section, and to submit a comment, you must submit an email address, but we don’t do anything with it. If you go to the site, you’ll notice we don’t have any ads. We tried a pay model for a spell, in early 2007, but didn’t get enough traction, because readers are used to getting the milk for free, and refuse to buy the frickin’ cow. Web journalism needs to move to a micropayment system, now!! But we are fortunate to have a publisher who is a humongous fight fan, a guy who likes to stay in the background, and who laments the lack of coverage in the papers. So he decided to fill the breach, and he makes a good living in another field, so he can as long as he chooses fund the site. Thus, we don’t need to beg programmers and promoters for ads. We don’t have to risk pissing off the advertisers, and having them threaten to pull ads if they don’t care for the content. Connect the dots.

Q. Who is your publisher?

A. Dino Davinci.

Q. How competitive is online boxing publishing? Who are your main competitors? Do you consider print – newspapers and magazines – as competition?

A. Since the barriers to entry aren’t immense, there is tons of competition. Our main competition, in my eyes, is Maxboxing.com, which is California based. I say that because they also have writers who’re classically schooled journalists, or newspaper reporters, so their standards are pretty high. A lot of the sites feature content by pro-ams, I guess you could call them. I’m not knocking it, it’s next to impossible to make any kind of living doing this, so many of the people doing fightwriting these days are dilettantes.

Fightnews.com is the top site, but they concentrate on breaking news. If you want to delve a bit deeper into a boxer, or a matchup, or the state of the game, you’ll come to TSS, or Maxboxing, or read Tom Hauser on SecondsOut.com, primarily.

I do not so much consider print our competition. No slap on them, there are some excellent fightwriters still hammering away at the dailies. Tim Smith, for one, still has that beat at the NY Daily News. Magazines have such a lag time that I pay them no mind. Ring Magazine is still alive, but it was bought buy Oscar De La Hoya, which puts their staff in a difficult position, one I am glad I don’t have to contend with. If you work at NBC, do you blow the whistle on a scandal at GE? If you work at Ring, can you write a feature which calls for the man who signs your check, Oscar De La Hoya, to retire? Tough call, those guys have bills to pay, jobs to hold on to.

Q. Describe a typical day as Managing Editor.

A. As soon as I wake up, I am logging on to the computer, and putting through comments. I am psychotic about making sure reader comments go through quickly. I edit copy that comes in, with a light touch, because I respect writers as artists, and want to give them the freedom to express themselves as they see fit, and not put them through the Michael Woods filter, or have a homogenous “TSS voice.” I will also write, an average of three to four pieces a week myself. On Sunday night, I’ll scan the schedule, see what big fights are coming up in the next week or two. I’ll send out a blast to the staff on Google Groups, ask them what they are interested in covering. They pitch me, and I usually say yes, again, because I respect them. Often I’ll think of something we should be addressing, and put a query out, asking who might like to take a shot at it. I often try to reach out to a particular guy and see if he wants to take a shot at a particular topic, because it plays to his strengths. One guy likes to do the historical, one guy likes to bust chops big time, ruffle feathers, etc.

My wife would tell you I am spending faaar too much time on TSS, and she would be right, I guess. But my name is at the top of the masthead, so I prefer that it not suck. On many a Friday nights, I will write up the ESPN Friday Nigh Fights show, and maybe a Showtime card as well. Then, on Saturday, I will cover an HBO card off TV. Again, back to my wife. She is a good lady, who understands that this is my job and my hobby, and she doesn’t moan and label herself as boxing widow. Often, we’ll have friends over to watch the bouts, and she can shoot the shit with them, while I tap away on the keyboard, and occasionally interject into their conversation arc, which is usually ranting about something the GOP did or is contemplating doing.

Q. How will you cover a major fight?

A. Our man David Avila has anything in Las Vegas and most of California locked down. He works for a California newspaper, so he’ll be dispatched to cards for them. It’s a two birds with a single stone thing. I will attend a fight if it’s at Madison Square Garden, as will Borges and Fernandez. It isn’t in the budget for me to fly to Vegas for the big bouts, and besides I like to cover the events in my underwear if I so choose. I can DVR it, pause, write, rewind, write, rewind again, determine exactly what punch of the combo made the guy’s eyes roll back in his head. Just know, if you are reading a deadline piece I wrote on a Saturday late night, I may well have been in my underwear, and an undershirt. Yummy visual, right?

Q. How did you get into boxing journalism? Who were your influences?

A. Funny you ask that. I grew up in Boston. I played hockey, and followed the Bruins, and Red Sox and Celtics and Patriots voraciously. Those teams ruled New England, but a guy named Marvin Hagler lived in Brockton, Mass., and was a certifiable badass at middleweight. “Destruct and destroy” was his motto. But you know that, Steve, because you were the boxing beat writer for The Boston Globe in the early 80s! So to a large extent, you helped set me on this path, to follow the sweet science, this red-light district of sports. I was attracted to the sport as much for the ludicrous hijinks of the con men, iconoclasts, gangsters and goofballs that serve as the promoters, and cornermen and managers as the majestic ebb and flow of an epic tussle. If you have a fascination with the darker elements of humanity and are a sports fan, here is where you land. So, influences were you, and then Ron Borges, who took on the beat after you left, and his compatriot, George Kimball at The Boston Herald. It so happened that my region had the best one-two punch of fightwriters in the world as I was moving into my teens. Then, I was in Ohio when Ohioan Buster Douglas shocked the world by taking the lunch money of the baddest bully out there, Mike Tyson. Feb. 11, 1990, I was doing my Michael Phelps imitation on that night, but I recognized through the haze that the drama in this sport, combined with the bounty of backstories featuring characters and situations out of a novelists imagination, made it a sport like no other. Boxing is a peerless metaphor for life, and I’ve always got a buzz from watching two guys duke it out. That is probably genetic, chemical. So my participation in this realm is partly nature, and part nurture and chance.

Q. Are boxing journalists fulfilling their watchdog function?

A. Yes. It is a necessary function of the post. Because boxing has no centralized league, or commissioner whose job it is to attend to the best interests of the sport, or athlete’s union whose job it is to look out for the short and long-term well being of the fighters, the fightwriters have to fill the vacuum. I mean, they don’t have to, but if you fancy your function as being more than a mere chronicler of what you see on the surface, then you have to speak your conscience. There is so much exploitation in the sport, so we have to point out egregious examples of it. Of course, I recognize that boxing is actually the entertainment business, so of course profiteering is front and center of that. In the next few years, I may toss my hat in the ring to a higher position of power with the Boxing Writers Association, and if that happens I’d like to put in place an ambitious platform that helped fighters share more in the bounty. I have been a vocal voice for the fans, who have paid through the nose if they want to see the marquee events in the last 15 plus years, because greedy programmers and promoters have installed a pay per view model. All the big bouts cost $45 or more to see, and you have to subscribe to HBO and Showtime to see premium action. Boxing has a bad rep and hasn’t been present on free TV for a decade, so cable and PPV has emerged as the go to place for viewing. That means that the sport is seen by fewer sports fans, and interest wanes. Greed and short term gains speak loudest, while younger folks who might’ve been fans get siphoned off into MMA.

No fightwriter speaks truth to power more than Hauser. He rips into HBO, the lead programmer, every year and when his piece hits the web, HBO suits go ballistic. The fightwrite media that cover the sport have to be on the lookout for evil doing, and exploitation, and cheating and the like. Boxing is a life and death sport. This ain’t no dodgeball; the stakes are the highest stakes in existence. A life is on the line, each and every time someone has the balls to glove up. They all deserve a degree of vigilance from we that earn a living doing this.

Michael Woods, excerpted from TheSweetScience.com, January 30, 2009:

http://www.thesweetscience.com/boxing-article/6531/relief-montreal-judges-right-urango/

Fight fans who tuned in to the main event of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights which unfolded at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada were feeling nervous that they’d see an out of towner, Juan Urango, get jobbed by the judges after he boxed more than adequately over 12 rounds in vying for the vacant IBF 140 pound title. His foe, Herman Ngoudjo, is a Montreal resident, and it so happened that the ref of this match was the same official who bungled the handling of a knockdown in favor of a Canadian three months ago. But that anxiety was misplaced, happily, as the judges did the right thing, and award the semi-crude banger Urango a unanimous decision (120-106, 118-108, 116-110) over Ngoudo on Saturday evening.

Urango, who won this vacated belt in 2006, with a UD12 win over Naoufel Ben Rabah and then dropped it immediately to Ricky Hatton, almost closed out the show with a strong assault and two knockdowns in the third round; so it seemed like judges would have to veer into the realm of the nakedly obvious felony if they chose Ngoudjo, but this is boxing, where we come to expect the unexpected, and with PlasterGate fresh in all our minds, the right call was welcomed with glee. The right call allowed us to forgive the timekeeper who allowed round 10 to go 5:10!

Urango, the lefty, looked to bomb from the start, and the Quebec resident Ngoudjo moved smartly to steer clear of punishment. Urango banged to the body, sharply, and the crowd gasped in round one. In the second, Herman’s straighter shots hit the mark a bit better. But he’d need to be sharp defensively for the duration of the bout to be successful—could he pull it off? Urango scored a knockdown in the third, off a left uppercut. To me, it looked like it could’ve been a slip, from tangled feet. It was ruled a knockdown, and Herman didn’t protest. He held on, as Urango went into blitzkrieg mode. Herman went down again, off a straight left, with 24 seconds to go. He got up, on weakened legs, and held on for dear life as the bell sounded. Could he clear the fog in the fourth?…

(SMG thanks Michael Woods for his cooperation)

Al Yellon

An Interview with Al Yellon

An Interview with Al Yellon

“Would it change the essential nature of being a Cubs fan – I’m not going to say if – I’m going to say when – they win? I don’t know but I sure as hell want to find out.”

“I’m on the site several hours a dayI could use some help but I discovered that I feel kind of personal about this. I want my own personal stamp on it. I’d rather do it myself.”

“I never felt like I wanted to be up in the pressbox, or in the clubhouse. I’m not a reporter – I’m a fan…I’ve never been one to actively seek a credential. In some ways not having one gives me more independence.”

“I would like to think the mainstream beat writer for a team should be a fan of team or at least of the sport – if not why do the job.”

Al Yellon: Interviewed on November 2, 2007

Position: Founder and Editor, Bleed Cubbie Blue

Born: 1956, Chicago

Education: Colgate, 1978, political science; Northwestern, 1980, Master’s in radio and TV

Career: ABC, Chicago 1981 –

Personal: single, two teenaged children

Favorite restaurant (home): Wildfire, Chicago “good steaks”

Favorite restaurant (away): Kona Grill, Scottsdale, Arizona

Favorite hotel: none

Al Yellon, posted on Bleed Cubbie Blue, September 29, 2007, 7:30 AM (Central)

CINCINNATI — In 1984, I was in Pittsburgh with about 5,000 other Cub fans at Three Rivers Stadium when the Cubs clinched the NL East title by beating the Pirates 4-1.

In 1989, I didn’t go to Montreal as it was far too expensive to find a flight there at the last minute, but once again the Cubs won the NL East on the field when Mitch Williams struck out Mike Fitzgerald to nail down a 3-2 win.

And in 1998
and in 2003,
the Cubs won playoff spots (a wild card and NL Central title, respectively) in front of wildly cheering throngs at Wrigley Field.

So it was a little surreal to “experience” the Cubs winning the NL Central title last night with about 100 other Cub fans at the Rock Bottom Brewery in downtown Cincinnati when Trevor Hoffman struck out Rickie Weeks in Milwaukee,
eliminating the Brewers and nailing down the Cubs’ fifth playoff spot in my lifetime, and third in the last ten seasons.

That makes this one different already. And so we begin the month of October, again, with hopes and dreams that this time, the postseason of 2007, will end differently than the disappointments and losses of 1984, 1989, 1998 and 2003…

Q. Is there agony in being a Cubs fan?

A. It’s become part of it. Whether it’s a good thing I’m not sure. If you step back from your emotional connection to the team and think ‘would I pick in a rational way to root for a team that never wins anything?’ the answer would be no.

You don’t choose this – you’re introduced to it. My dad took me to my first game in 1963 when I was seven years old. Because the Cubs played day games you could come home from school and watch on TV and that’s how you get hooked. By the time you realize it’s your fate it’s too late to change course.

We want them to win but there are other things than winning. I’ve been slammed for that. In the absence of winning I am not going to not enjoy going to games and being a part of history. Would I like to win all the time – of course. But does it drive everything? If it did I would change and be a Red Sox fan. Would it change the essential nature of being a Cubs fan – I’m not going to say if – I’m going to say when – they win? I don’t know but I sure as hell want to find out.

Q. Is it likely to happen soon?

A. They did well this year, better than last year. They made the playoffs after a 96-loss season, and then they stopped hitting the minute October started. They have a good base to build on, but they need to make changes. There’s hope for the future. I like the job Lou Piniella did. He took a bunch of pieces that didn’t work well and figured out how to deal with them. He wasn’t willing to sit still – when something didn’t work he changed it. I wasn’t in favor of his being hired – he had a reputation of throwing bases and yelling at umpires and the Cubs don’t need that. But that’s not who Lou is. He seems to have mellowed in his old age. I’m very happy with the job Lou did. If they can fill in a few pieces in the off-season they can win next year.

Q. Describe the heart of a blogger.

A. You obviously have to be very passionate. You have to love the team and love writing and meeting other people who are similar.

Q. How would you characterize your writing?

A. I like to put a little more personal stuff in than some others who have a statistical approach. Many are just linking to other news reports about the team. I’m not criticizing that – I’ll do the same thing if there’s an article in the newspaper or on a website that I like. But in the postings I write about the game I’ll put more personal things in. I try to give people an idea of what it’s like to be at the ballpark every day. The Cubs have lots of fans, because of WGN, who don’t live in Chicago – fans who follow on cable and satellite. I like to give them a flavor of what it’s like to be here and go to Wrigley.

Q. Where are your seats?

A. Left field bleachers – by choice. For years I was in right field, but two years ago the right field bleachers were rebuilt. The place where we sat in right field disappeared and we had to pick something new.

Q. What’s your personal background?

A. I’ve been a Cubs fan since I was a kid. I became a fan the way everybody becomes a fan – you take to a team or sport for different reasons. I’m a TV director for the ABC station in Chicago. Ten years ago I started working early mornings – I go to work at 4 a.m and work on the morning news. In doing so I could go to every game. I’m a season ticket holder. During the season I just don’t sleep much.

Q. How did you get started?

A. I always liked writing but I never wrote professionally. Then blogging became big and I thought I would start one. I didn’t intend it to be Cubs specific, but I discovered after two months that 98 percent of what I was writing was about the Cubs, so it became a Cubs blog.

I started getting e-mails from people who had found my site. I got one from Markos Moulitsas, who runs the Daily Kos political blog. It turned out he’s a big Cubs fan and had been reading my stuff for quite some time. I think that’s why I was approached by Tyler Bleszinski, the head of the SB Nation group. His idea was to start blogs that people could participate in. There are 130 of us _ I was No. 6 on the list. I said “why not”. In February 2005 Bleed Cubbie Blue got started.

It’s really worked. I’ve met a lot of nice people and it’s a nice outlet for me. It’s connected me with a lot of other Cubs fans, which I find rewarding.

Q. How much time is involved?

A. During the season I post a game thread every day to get discussion going about the game – that’s about 20 to 30 minutes. After each game I write a recap – usually I’ve been there if it’s a home game and some road games. That might take 30 minutes. The rest is kind of managing it – keeping an eye on comments and making sure they’re not too out of control. I’m on the site several hours a day.

Q. Do you have help?

A. It’s just me. I could use some help but I discovered that I feel kind of personal about this. I want my own personal stamp on it. I’d rather do it myself.

Q. What is your audience size?

A. As the Cubs were heading toward the playoffs I was getting ten thousand hits a day. During the season I get about four to five thousand a day. Even the last couple of weeks it’s been four thousand. Winter is slow, though I had a couple of eight and nine thousand days last winter when Soriano was signed. My biggest days were during the playoffs.

I have just under four thousand unique users.

Q. Your rank among Cubs blogs?

A. Number one.

Q. Do you have a core group of visitors?

A. Yes. You can look through the diaries. One feature of SB Nation blogs is that people can post diaries, which is a blog within a blog. There are probably 10 to 20 people who post on a regular basis and are very knowledgeable in specific areas. One guy is good with statistics, another knows the minor leagues – there are 100 to 150 who comment almost every day. If you narrow it down to a particular week 200 to 250 people are regular commentators.

Q. Does your blog generate revenue?

A. I make some money. Would I like it to be full-time, sure. But it’s never going to make enough to be full-time. My costs are supported. It’s a nice extra bit of income.

Q. Do you have contact with the Cubs organization?

A. Not directly.

Q. Do they read your site?

I know they do. Business, management and marketing people read it – they’ve told me when I run into some of them. As far as the baseball people, the G.M. and the scouting people, I don’t know.

Q. How many Cubs blogs are there?

A. At one time there were over 100. I think there are 20 or 30 active Cubs blogs. How many update on a daily basis? Less than 10.

It’s not easy to do every day – it’s like another job. If you don’t keep up on a daily basis people stop reading. I have a passion for it – I like it. People who read it know it’s going to be updated every day.

Q. Do you take a vacation from the blog?

A. I haven’t. Even when I’ve been on vacation I take my laptop and keep updating. Will I – maybe. But I won’t during the season. If I’m going to be on vacation it’s going to be in December somewhere away from Chicago. I do go to spring training. It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

Q. How much Cubs stuff do you read?

A. Everything I get my hands on- daily newspapers articles, other blogs, websites – though not necessarily in great detail. I skim everything and try to be plugged into as much as I can.

Q. Do you want a press credential?

A. I’ve never felt compelled to have one. This is a source of disagreement among SB Nation bloggers – some want it – some don’t. I never felt like I wanted to be up in the pressbox, or in the clubhouse. I’m not a reporter – I’m a fan. That’s not my job. I haven’t done interviews with baseball people – though I wouldn’t mind sitting down with Jim Hendry or Piniella. I’ve never been one to actively seek a credential. In some ways not having one gives me more independence.

Q. Are credentialed media constrained by credentials?

A. In some ways. It’s the nature of their job – they can’t go off on tangents. And they have space limitations.

Q. Is credentialed media less candid with its audience?

A. I can’t speak for them. It feels that way, but do I have specific instances of that – no. But it feels that way for me. Also, they are subject to being edited. I don’t have that restriction.

Q. Does being paid change the perspective of traditional media?

A. It might. I go because I want to. The writers go because it’s their job. Some have great passion for sports, which is why they go into it in the first place. I know Bruce Miles, the Cubs beat writer for the Daily Herald – he grew up a Cubs fan like any of us. So for him it’s both. Would he be at the ballpark if not for his job – I think probably not every day. I don’t know if that applies to everybody who is a sportswriter – for some I think it’s just their job.

Q. Should mainstream media be fans?

A. I would like to think the mainstream beat writer for a team should be a fan of team or at least of the sport – if not why do the job.

Q. Could you blog if they didn’t do their jobs?

A. Yes. I generally don’t use a lot of their quotes unless some player is quoted saying goofy things. Could I do my blog without them – yeah. They’re helpful but not required. I write off of what I see with my own eyes.

Q. You notice I haven’t asked the obligatory Steve Bartman question.

A. Yes. My feeling is that he’s old news – I don’t like to discuss him. I’m tired of hearing about him from the national media. It’s time to move on and play baseball. Leave the guy alone – he made a mistake – let’s move on.

Q. Do you work on a couch?

A. I don’t sit on a couch much. I do work in a basement but it’s my own basement – not my parents’. I have a nice chair I like to put my feet on while I’m working.

Al Yellon, posted on Bleed Cubbie Blue, October 22, 2007, 10:08 AM (Central)

With another couple of days to pass with no ballgames, I thought it was about time to start some discussion here of the next big event regarding the Cubs — the upcoming sale by Tribune Company, or more correctly, by Sam Zell once he consummates the purchase of Tribune Company. Incidentally, just today we learn that this deal may be further delayed because:

Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is refusing to grant the necessary waivers that would allow the deal to circumvent FCC rules against cross-ownership of media properties.

So stay tuned.

I have been accused of being an apologist for Tribco. Nothing could be further from the truth. As many of you know, I wrote three paid articles for Vine Line and got paid $180 for them. I can’t be bought for $180 — that’s ridiculous. In fact, all three articles were adapted from posts I originally made here. There have been times when I have defended Tribco, management, and Dusty Baker — far longer than I should have, in the latter case. At this point, that’s far beyond relevance — I know, as do all of you, that it’s time to move on, to get an owner of this ballclub that is committed in every way to winning. I do think Tribco management wanted to win; it simply wasn’t willing to go the extra mile to do so. A very simple way of seeing this is the fact that the Cubs have the fewest full-time year-round baseball employees of any team in baseball. This obviously hurts scouting and player development. I have heard this is going to change this offseason, as Tribco apparently wants to go out on a good foot — or maybe they have an understanding with all of the principal contenders for ownership that they can do so. This might also portend well for possible payroll increases or acquisitions this offseason.

(SMG thanks Al Yellon for his cooperation)

Ian Thomsen

An Interview with Ian Thomsen

An Interview with Ian Thomsen

“It’s always a ‘person’ story in sports. If a story has any merit it’s anecdotal. You have to find out a way to find the information you’re looking for. It’s always a matter of getting somebody to tell you. Nobody can teach you how. It’s about relating to people.”

“I go to SI.com a lot because of my affiliation. But I really don’t go to websites to get a fix the way a lot of people do… I find a lot of what you read on bigger sports websites is distracting from what I want to know. A lot of people writing on the web don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re sort of wasting everybody’s time.”

“The sportswriting business would be better if they hired somebody who actually hung out in bar and knew the bookies and saw things the way Will McDonough used to see them.”

Ian Thomsen. Interviewed on August 18, 2006.

Position: NBA reporter, Sports Illustrated.

Born: 1961, Montreal, Canada.

Education: Northwestern, BS, 1983.

Career: Boston Globe 1983-89, The National 90-91, International Herald Tribune 92-97, Sports Illustrated 98- present.

Personal: married, two children.

Favorite restaurant (home): Caffe Paolina, Swampscott, MA

Favorite restaurant (road): Mandarin House, Evanston, IL

Favorite hotel: The Standard, Miami

Ian Thomsen excerpted, with Luis Fernando Llosa, from Sports Illustrated, September 3, 2001:

The Little League World Series final at Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pa., on Sunday had a thrilling finish that in other years would have served as the tournament’s most unforgettable image. For the second time in three years the series was won by a team from Japan, as Tokyo Kitasuna scored both runs in its 2-1 victory over Apopka, Fla., on a bottom-of-the-sixth single by Nobuhisa Baba, a 5’1″ third baseman…

But Sunday’s events seemed almost anticlimactic after the show put on earlier in the series by Danny Almonte, a remarkably poised lefthander from the Rolando Paulino All-Stars of the Bronx. As his team advanced to last Saturday’s U.S. championship game, in which it lost 8-2 to Apopka, Danny, a native of Moca in the Dominican Republic, seemed like a man among boys, using his lanky leg kick and effortless release to blind his overmatched foes with 70-mph-plus two- and four-seam fastballs–the equivalent, given that Little League pitchers throw from a mound just 46 feet from home plate, of 92-mph major league heat–and bamboozle them with sharp curves and changeups…

Such was Danny’s celebrity that during the tournament he received a good-luck call from his idol, Cincinnati Reds centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr., and as a child version of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ towering lefty Randy (the Big Unit) Johnson, the 5’8″ Danny earned the nickname the Little Unit. Even before the tournament his physical and mound maturity had caused some to wonder if he was, as the Paulino All-Stars claimed, 12 years old -the maximum age for Little League eligibility…

According to birth ledgers in Moca examined by SI, Danny’s birth date was registered with the Dominican government in December 1994 by his father, Felipe, as April 7, 1987. (In the Dominican Republic it is not uncommon for parents to wait years before officially declaring the birth of a child.) That means that when Danny Almonte was blowing away batters in Williamsport last week, he was officially 14 years old.

Q. Which of your stories had the biggest impact on readers?

A. When I was at the Globe, two football-playing twins in small coal-mining town in Pennsylvania were in a car accident and one died. Very tragic. That was the one I heard most about.

Q. What about the Danny Almonte story for SI?

A. That one probably got the most attention. But the real work on that was done by Luis Llosa at SI, he was in the Dominican researching another story and he discovered Daniel Almonte’s birth certificate, which proved he was two years older than he claimed he was. I always thought that was his story more than mine. My own feeling is people pay way too much attention to the Little League World Series. It puts a lot of pressure on kids. It’s mind-boggling that the President of the United States goes to watch the final. It only puts more pressure on these kids to perform. It’s just all wrong, I think.

Q. Do fans want investigative exposes?

A. On interesting subjects, which almost never get written, because they’re impossible to gather up. They wanted to know if Daniel Almonte was 12 or 14. I don’t think they want to know if some minor infraction of NCAA rules takes place. I don’t think they care if NFL players are on steroids. It’s almost accepted they want them on steroids because they want them as big and fast as possible. They do want to know about Barry Bonds on steroids. So it’s a very narrow frame of investigation. Ultimately they want to be entertained. They don’t want to take it seriously to the point they have to approach it like reading a tax manual.

Q. Aren’t sports supposed to be an escape from life’s grimness?

A. I never bought the idea that it’s an escape. If you’re a sports fan that’s just part of your life. People get awfully upset about sports. You hear all these people who call in to talk radio – they’re not escaping anything. They’re getting more upset about sports than other things in their lives.

Q. How does someone become an informed sports fan?

A. To me it all depends on how much common sense you have personally. You have to read in between the lines to know what’s going on. You rarely get the full story out of any one newspaper article or magazine article. And then because it’s such a subjective avocation it’s all a matter of opinion anyway apart from the hard stats. A lot of it in a larger sense doesn’t matter anyway. It’s for fun. To me people should get out of it whatever they put into it. If you want to be a hard-core junkie you can figure out your own route to learning. It’s like my business. You figure out your own way to what a story is. You come to your own opinion and conclusions.

Q. Where do you get your sports information?

I focus mainly now on the NBA. For NBA information I use a couple of websites that provide daily news compendium: Insidehoops.com and hoopshype.com. Both give a good roundup of what newspapers are reporting everyday. I read SI every week. I read the Boston Globe. I get very little from TV. I don’t watch a lot of SportsCenter. Almost all is from print.

Q. What about the major sports websites?

A. Only when I’m really looking for something. I go to SI.com a lot because of my affiliation. But I really don’t go to websites to get a fix the way a lot of people do. Don’t feel the need for it. Everything I need I still get through the traditional vehicles. I’m a dinosaur. When I try to go to espn.com I feel like I can just get lost in there.
I find that there’s just so much drek on the web I don’t’ want to waste my time sifting through to get to what I’m looking for. The conventional sources get right to the point of what I’m looking for. I find a lot of what you read on bigger sports websites is distracting from what I want to know. A lot of people writing on the web don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re sort of wasting everybody’s time.

Q. Writers you admire?

A. The Globe writers – Jackie MacMullen, Bob Ryan, Ron Borges, Dan Shaughnessy – all are very reliable – you don’t miss much reading the Globe every day. That will fill me in on what’s going on in Boston and around the country. Everybody who writes for SI is reliable and gives you a deeper perspective.

When I first got into the business sportswriting was in a golden era – there were so many terrific writers writing about sports. That era in my mind has passed. It’s hard for me to find many people who live up to that standard. Hard for me to read this stuff knowing how good it should be. Same complaint I hear from people talking about the NBA. They remember the 80s with Bird and Magic and now it’s hard to watch it knowing how it should be.

Q. NBA reporters you admire?

A. A lot of good ones. But I’m competing with them so I don’t want to give them any ink. Mention that I laughed when I said that.

Q. How useful are insidehoops.com and hoopshype.com?

A. All the people who work in the NBA look at those websites to get a roundup. They don’t catch all the news but they cast a wide net. So you get a roundup. They don’t just go to the bigger papers. They miss the point sometimes but do a pretty good job. It’s a good starting place.

Q. What is your work schedule?

A. Out of four weeks I probably travel parts of three weeks to NBA cities. When I’m working at home on a typical day I’ll start online to see what the news is. Depending on what my assignment is I’ll start making my calls. And fish around to see what I can find to write about. I go online to find out what not to do. If something is already written I’ll cross it off my list and try to find another direction to go. The magazine comes out five days after I file a story. It has to hold up. That’s the hard part of working for SI but when it works out it’s the rewarding part, too.

Q. How is your job on family life?

A. No harder than other jobs. Lawyers work 70 hours a week. Salesmen travel all the time. Every job requires balance.

Q. Can sportswriting be taught in a textbook?

A. No. It’s all common sense. It’s always a ‘person’ story in sports. If a story has any merit it’s anecdotal. You have to find out a way to find the information you’re looking for. It’s always a matter of getting somebody to tell you. Nobody can teach you how. It’s about relating to people. Which is exactly how fans relate to sports. It’s a personal process. That’s why to be a sportswriter you really don’t have to go to college. You just have to have street smarts and be able to figure out how things work.

The sportswriting business would be better if they hired somebody who actually hung out in bar and knew the bookies and saw things the way Will McDonough used to see them. It’s become very academic now. We don’t hire people in bars. There’s nobody like Willie around. There never was. If Willie tried to get a job today at the Globe I’m convinced they wouldn’t hire him. Because the qualities that used to be so obvious to newspapers are now almost shunned.

Q. What’s your advice for young sports media?

A. If somebody wants to be a big star as a sportswriter they should try to be a very good stylish writer and develop a voice. There is so little of that going on anymore that’s how you really stand out today and you’d provide a service. More people than ever are reading sports news and yet the quality of writing has suffered in spite of a growing audience. If somebody would take a 1960s or 1970s approach they’d be a big star in the business.

Everybody talks about the Sopranos as cutting edge TV. What is it except old-fashioned story telling? The producer didn’t go into the future – he went into the past and conjured up all traditional themes of storytelling. That’s what people should be doing if they want to set themselves apart. Be like Leigh Montville or Jim Murray. Don’t worry about breaking news so much but worry about how to tell a story.

(SMG thanks Ian Thomsen for his cooperation)

Grant Wahl

An Interview with Grant Wahl

An Interview with Grant Wahl

“Although Beckham would not do one-on-one interviews specifically for the book – his handlers wanted a lot of money to participate, and I don’t pay the people I cover – he was available to the media before and after games – twice a week…”

“I write differently about soccer for Sports Illustrated magazine than I do for SI.com. Soccer journalism in the U.S. is still very much Internet-driven, and I write for the hardcore soccer fan – American and otherwise – on SI.com.

When I write for SI magazine, it’s always a challenge because I have to write for the mainstream U.S. sports fan and include things that will satisfy the hardcore soccer fan too.”

“Writer’s block used to be a big problem for me when I started at SI. I actually used to tie myself to a chair through the belt loops of my pants to keep me from going anywhere. But thankfully I don’t seem to get The Block anymore – knock on wood.”

Grant Wahl: Interviewed on July 12, 2009

Position: Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated

Born: 1973, Merriam, Kansas

Education: Princeton, 1996, BA in Politics

Career: Miami Herald sports intern 1996, Sports Illustrated 1996 –

Personal: Married, no kids.

Favorite restaurant (home): Jack’s Bistro, Baltimore. “Quirky slice of Baltimore with great food that wouldn’t be out of place in a John Waters or David Simon production.”

Favorite restaurant (away): Shiro’s Sushi, Seattle. “Not fancy or high-priced, but the best sushi you’ll ever have, anywhere – and I’ve eaten a lot.”

Favorite hotel: The Plaza, Buenos Aires. “A classic hotel in the heart of my adopted city.”

Author of: The Beckham Experiment: How The World’s Most Famous Athlete Tried to Conquer America http://tinyurl.com/layry6
)

Grant Wahl, excerpted from ‘The Beckham Experiment’:

Meanwhile, Beckham made an effort to fit in, and on his first MLS road trip he endured an only-in-America experience. After his first training session with the Galaxy, in Washington two days before a nationally televised game against D.C. United, he helped organize a dinner with 10 other players at Morton’s steak house in Arlington, Va. Beckham had enjoyed the players-only meals at Real Madrid, and if he was going to be just one of the lads in the Galaxy locker room, things needed to get off on the right foot. Not long after they took their table, the waiter asked if anyone wanted wine. They all raised their hands.

“O.K.,” the waiter said. “I need to see some I.D.’s.”

“I don’t have my I.D. with me,” Beckham said.

“No I.D., no wine!” the waiter announced, theatrically snatching Beckham’s wineglass.

Beckham thought it was a put-on. “Is this guy taking the piss?” he asked. But the waiter was serious. When the Galaxy’s Portuguese defender Abel Xavier couldn’t produce an I.D., his wineglass disappeared too. “What is this?” the 34-year-old Xavier thundered. “I have a kid who can drink.” The other players laughed hysterically, partly because the waiter hadn’t recognized the world’s most famous athlete and partly because Beckham and Xavier were so used to being mobbed in Europe that they didn’t bother carrying identification. Welcome to soccer in the U.S., guys.

The Morton’s dinner was the first time Beckham had held center stage at a players-only meal, and he came out of his shell, answering questions and telling stories about his days with Manchester United, the English national team and Real Madrid. The vibe was comfortable. There was no awkwardness with Beckham. “You can break his balls,” said defender Chris Albright, “and he’ll break your balls right back.” Kyle Martino, a midfielder, was stunned that Beckham could be such a regular guy.

And then the check came.

Beckham was earning a $6.5 million salary, and his income, with endorsements, would balloon to $48.2 million. Martino was making a salary of $55,297 — before taxes — and living in one of the U.S.’s most expensive cities. Nearly everyone at the table was thinking, Is Beckham going to pick up the check? But nobody said anything. Beckham, meanwhile, had never been in this situation before. The players on his other teams had all been millionaires, and Real Madrid paid for all team meals anyway. The Galaxy provided only a $45 per diem on the road. What would Beckham do? What should he do?

Donovan eyed the bill from his seat. He had paid for teammates’ dinners in the past, and he’d made his position clear even before Beckham’s arrival. “He’d better be picking up meals too,” Donovan had told teammates, “or else I’ll call him out on it.” But defender Chris Klein, one of Donovan’s best friends on the team, had a different viewpoint.

“If you’re out to dinner with the guys and you pick up a check here or there, then fine,” Klein said. “But if you start to feel like you’re being used, these aren’t your friends anymore. These are leeches. You can look at it two ways: Here’s this guy that’s making a lot of money, and maybe he should pick up the tab. But the other side of it is, maybe he’s trying so hard to be one of the guys, if he’s paying for everything then he’s not one of the guys anymore.”

Beckham didn’t pick up the check. He put in enough to cover his share and passed it along. That would be standard operating procedure at meals throughout the season. “None of us care,” said Kelly Gray, one of Beckham’s frequent dining companions. “It’s just nice to go out to dinner.”

Donovan didn’t call Beckham out at Morton’s after all, but he could never get over Beckham’s alligator arms when the bill arrived. Nobody would have believed it, he thought: David Beckham is a cheapskate.

Q. Beckham chose not to pick up the tab at his first dinner with his Galaxy teammates? What would you have done if you were him, assuming you could not expense it to SI?

A. It’s a fascinating debate, not least because reasonable people can disagree over whether Beckham – annual income: $50 million – should pick up the check at a fancy steakhouse with teammates earning under $20,000 a year.

If I’m Beckham in that situation, I would have picked up the check at the first meal in a heartbeat – and if I didn’t want to do it all the time, I would have just put in my share for future meals. If it was me personally – making my SI salary – then I would have been making similar money to several other players at the meal, and I probably wouldn’t have tried to pick up the whole thing. Then again, if I was one of the other players, I wouldn’t have wanted Beckham paying for everything all the time. I would have felt that my money was as good as his money, and I wouldn’t want to feel like Turtle from Entourage.

Q. Your access to Beckham was described as “unparalleled”. How so?

A. I saw that someone else wrote that – not me or my publisher – and I don’t think I would use that term necessarily. Beckham has done his own – ghost-written – books before, and those writers have had more access to him – even if every word is carefully approved by Beckham’s management team.

I have always had a solid working relationship with Beckham, have interviewed him more than any other American journalist – for major stories in SI – and material from those one-on-one interviews appears throughout my book.

Our arrangement for The Beckham Experiment was straightforward: Although Beckham would not do one-on-one interviews specifically for the book – his handlers wanted a lot of money to participate, and I don’t pay the people I cover – he was available to the media before and after games – twice a week, in other words, or far more accessible than at any point in his European career. I asked him a lot of questions in those sessions, and his voice and thoughts are in the book. I also spoke often – on background – to Beckham’s handlers in the interest of fairness and good journalism.

I do think I got unparalleled access inside a Beckham team. Nearly everyone on the Galaxy – including Landon Donovan, Alexi Lalas and ownership group CEO Tim Leiweke – gave me exclusive interviews during the 16-month process of reporting the book. They were very candid, and to their credit they continued to speak to me even when the team’s fortunes started declining on the field.

Q. It’s not your job to promote MLS, but if it were, what would you do to grow the audience?

A. I think star power does matter, and I hope that this Beckham experience doesn’t turn off MLS owners to the notion of bringing in other big-name players. They just need to make sure they bring in the right players and handle how they work with the team on and off the field. But you need more than one really good player per team. Soccer is the ultimate team sport, and the level of the players – and salaries – needs to increase across the board.

Q. What does your SI soccer beat entail?

A. It seems like a bit more every year. College basketball is still my main beat at SI, but I cover all the major international soccer tournaments and provide coverage of MLS and the U.S. national team for SI and SI.com. I’m really lucky to be covering the two sports that I love—and, not coincidentally, the two most popular sports – soccer and hoops – on the planet. How could anyone ever complain about covering the two coolest sporting events in the world: the NCAA basketball tournament and the World Cup?

Q. Do you write soccer different for an American audience than you would for an audience in England or Brazil – to name a couple of soccer hotbeds?

A. I write differently about soccer for Sports Illustrated magazine than I do for SI.com. Soccer journalism in the U.S. is still very much Internet-driven, and I write for the hardcore soccer fan – American and otherwise – on SI.com.

When I write for SI magazine, it’s always a challenge because I have to write for the mainstream U.S. sports fan and include things that will satisfy the hardcore soccer fan too. But I do think there are ways to pull that off, and it’s getting easier to keep everyone happy as tournaments like the World Cup become big-time mainstream events in the United States. The U.S. television audience for the 2006 World Cup final – 16.9 million – beat out the average audiences for that year’s NBA Finals – 12.9 million) – and World Series – 15.8 million).

Q. Who were your career influences?

A. Far too many people to name here, but I’ll mention a few. The former New York Times war correspondent Gloria Emerson taught me in a writing course during my freshman year of college. She scared the hell out of me at first, but this 65-year-old woman became one of my closest college friends—I wrote my senior thesis – on politics and soccer in Argentina – at an office in her house. David Remnick of The New Yorker taught me in another intensive writing seminar in 1995; learning how to approach literary non-fiction from him was an amazing experience.

I got hired at Sports Illustrated by Bambi Wulf, whose record of writing hires at SI included Steve Rushin, Austin Murphy, Jon Wertheim and Jeff Pearlman. The entire staff of writers, editors and photographers at SI has had a huge influence. It’s a great place to work.

Q. How difficult or easy is writing for you? Ever suffer from writer’s block?

A. Writer’s block used to be a big problem for me when I started at SI. I actually used to tie myself to a chair through the belt loops of my pants to keep me from going anywhere. But thankfully I don’t seem to get The Block anymore – knock on wood. Good thing, too, since I had to write The Beckham Experiment in less than three months. My wife was working in South Africa for a year as an infectious-disease doctor – she’s the star of the family – and I landed in Johannesburg on Thanksgiving 2008 to start my leave of absence from SI – now over. I outlined for two weeks, then wrote 112,000 words in 72 days—10 hours a day, seven days a week—to make the March 1 deadline for my manuscript. It was good to learn that I could do it, and even though I wrote fast I still feel good about the quality of the book.

Q. Who and what do you read to keep up with sports – mainstream and non-mainstream?

A. I only really follow the two sports that I cover: soccer and college basketball. My wife kind of hates sports, so when I’m off the clock I’m off the clock, and I’m plenty busy staying on top of the two sports that I cover since there are so many teams.

I follow several writers in college hoops, including Alex Wolff, Seth Davis and Luke Winn from SI; Mike DeCourcy (The Sporting News); Andy Katz,

Pat Forde and Jay Bilas (ESPN); Jeff Goodman (FoxSports.com); Gary Parrish (CBS Sportsline); and John Feinstein (Washington Post). There are also a ton of good columnists who do college hoops, including Rick Bozich (Louisville) and Dan Wetzel and Adrian Wojnarowski (Yahoo). I could go on forever.

Soccer-wise, there’s some good journalism being done out there in the U.S.:

Steven Goff (Washington Post), Ives Galarcep (ESPN.com), Jeré Longman and George Vecsey (New York Times), Mark Zeigler (San Diego Union-Tribune), Beau Dure (USA Today), Michael Lewis (New York Daily News), Greg Lalas and Jonah Freedman (SI.com) and Andrea Canales and Kyle McCarthy (Goal.com) are some who I read a lot, but there are several others too. One of the best ways to keep up with all the soccer news is a blog called Du Nord (dunord.blogspot.com) by Bruce McGuire.

Q. Assuming that reporters root for the best story, your feelings when the U.S. lost the Confederations Cup final to Brazil?

A. Well, that would have been a great story, wouldn’t it, if the U.S. men had won their first international soccer tournament by beating No. 1-ranked Spain and World Cup favorite Brazil four days apart? If the U.S. had held on to the lead, it almost certainly would have been the cover story in that week’s Sports Illustrated. Instead the U.S. lost, and a five-page cover story turned into a 1.5-page Inside Soccer column. I’d be lying if part of me didn’t envision a cover photo of captain Carlos Bocanegra holding up the trophy under the coverline BYE-BYE BRAZIL! But that’s okay. The U.S. run got people in America excited about next year’s World Cup. It would be an even bigger story if the Yanks got to the final of that one.

Q. What would have to happen for the U.S. to win the World Cup in 2010?

A. A lot of unexpected things. Realistically, the U.S. is one of the top 15 teams in the world, but it’s not anywhere near the top five. Then again, strange things can happen in the World Cup. The U.S. outplayed Germany in the 2002 WC quarterfinal (losing 1-0), and a win would have given the Americans the chance to play South Korea for the right to be in the World Cup final. You never know what the future may hold, but this is an exciting time to be covering soccer in America.

Grant Wahl, excerpted from ‘The Beckham Experiment’:

In August 2008 Leiweke napalmed the Galaxy’s dysfunctional management structure, pushing out Lalas, Gullit and Byrne, thereby damaging his relationship with Team Beckham. Not once did Beckham address the players as L.A.’s free fall continued, and in October he used a yellow-card suspension as a reason not to attend L.A.’s most important game of the season, a loss in Houston that eliminated the team from playoff contention. Four days later news broke of Beckham’s clandestine push to be loaned to AC Milan. Donovan was furious.

Over a lunch of lamb pizza and a peach salad at Petros, a stylish Greek restaurant in Manhattan Beach, Donovan took a sip of Pinot Grigio and exhaled deeply. It was 24 hours after he’d learned of Beckham’s desire to move to Milan, and instead of enjoying a Thursday off from practice, he was miserable. The Galaxy’s awful season hadn’t ended yet, but all the talk was about Beckham’s possible departure.

Donovan himself was convinced that Captain Galaxy had vanished in spirit weeks earlier. “My sense is that David’s clearly frustrated, that he’s unhappy and, honestly, that he thinks it’s a joke,” said Donovan, who was about to clinch the MLS goal-scoring title. “I also kind of feel [he has taken the team] for granted. I don’t see dedication or commitment to this team, and that’s troubling.”

The longer Donovan had been around Beckham, the more he’d asked himself, Who is this guy? Why is he so secretive? Donovan had tried to have a conversation with Beckham the day before, but he’d gotten nowhere. “So you’re going to Milan?” Donovan had asked.

“We’ll see,” Beckham replied. “I’ve got to stay fit somehow during the off-season.”

“It’s a nice city, right?”

“Some people say it is, but I don’t know.”

And that was it. Their lockers were side-by-side, but they might as well have been a million miles apart.

No, Donovan decided, Beckham communicated far more clearly with his actions than with his words. Donovan still couldn’t fathom why Beckham had stayed in England for nearly three days after a national-team game the previous week, had refrained from traveling to Houston to support his teammates in the most important game of the year. It didn’t matter that he was suspended, Donovan thought, didn’t matter that he’d been given permission by the Galaxy to stay away. He was the captain of the team.

“All that we care about at a minimum is that he committed himself to us,” Donovan said. “As time has gone on, that has not proven to be the case in many ways — on the field, off the field. Does the fact that he earns that much money come into it? Yeah. If someone’s paying you more than anybody in the league, more than double anybody in the league, the least we expect is that you show up to every game, whether you’re suspended or not. Show up and train hard. Show up and play hard. Maybe he’s not a leader, maybe he’s not a captain. Fair enough. But at a minimum you should bust your ass every day. That hasn’t happened. And I don’t think that’s too much for us to expect. Especially when he’s brought all this on us.”

Donovan had wanted the Beckham Experiment to work, and there was no reason in his mind that it still couldn’t be successful in 2009. But not if Beckham continued acting the way he had during the last half of 2008. “When David first came, I believed he was committed to what he was doing,” Donovan said. “He cared. He wanted to do well. He wanted the team and the league to do well. Somewhere along the way — and in my mind it coincides with Ruud being let go — he just flipped a switch and said, ‘Uh-uh, I’m not doing it anymore.’ “

By now, in fact, Donovan no longer agreed with the “good teammate, bad captain” verdict that so many other Galaxy players had reached on Beckham. Donovan was convinced that Beckham wasn’t even a good teammate anymore: “He’s not. He’s not shown that. I can’t think of another guy where I’d say he wasn’t a good teammate, he didn’t give everything through all this, he didn’t still care. But with [Beckham] I’d say no, he wasn’t committed.”

The most fascinating aspect of Donovan’s barrage was the even manner in which he delivered it. He sounded like a scientist revealing the findings of an experiment. The way Donovan saw it, he was just sharing his conclusions about a coworker, one who happened to be David Beckham.

Donovan didn’t know what would come next, but he did know that things would have to change if he and Beckham were teammates in 2009. “Let’s say he does stay here three more years,” Donovan said. “I’m not going to spend the next three years of my life doing it this way. This is f—— miserable. I don’t want to have soccer be this way.”

What could he do? “That’s my issue too,” he said. “I’ve got to confront it somehow. If that’s the way he’s going to be, fine, then hold him accountable. Bench him. Just say, ‘We’re not going to play you, we don’t think you’re committed.’ “

As disgusted as he sounded, though, Donovan still thought his relationship with Beckham could be saved — if Beckham returned to being the kind of teammate who at least wanted to come support the Galaxy the day after an England game. Then again, it all might have been moot, given the Milan news. Donovan knew how the soccer world worked, knew how Beckham and 19 Entertainment operated too. “It could be that it’s just a loan now,” Donovan said, “but he could play a few games and go, ‘S—, I want to stay here.'”

Donovan was right. Beckham produced two goals and two assists in his first five games for Milan and announced that he wanted to stay in Italy instead of returning to the Galaxy. Thus began a monthlong global saga of negotiations involving Milan, L.A. and MLS. The result: Beckham would finish the Serie A season and rejoin the Galaxy in July, midway through the MLS season.

By the time Beckham returned, Donovan planned on finally confronting the Englishman over his commitment to the Galaxy. Now, however, the tables had turned. Donovan was wearing the captain’s armband again.

(SMG thanks Grant Wahl for his cooperation)

Michael Weinreb

An Interview with Michael Weinreb

An Interview with Michael Weinreb

“The worst thing about freelancing is that I can no longer steal office supplies. Also, it is impossible to know how much money to save at any given time, and I pay several thousand dollars a year for my health insurance – then again, who doesn’t – and I’m still not great at being pro-active and pitching ideas all the time, but I cannot say the lifestyle disagrees with me.

I do not like mornings very much. I’d rather work into the evening, sometimes until 1 or 2 in the morning, and I tend to write in great bursts and then spend a few days or weeks thinking about where I’m going next.”

Position: Freelance writer/author

Born: 1972, Bronxville, New York

Education: Penn State, 1994, B.A. Journalism; Boston University, 2001, M.A. Creative Writing

Career: Akron Beacon Journal, 1995-2000; Freelanced for Boston Globe, Boston Magazine 2000-01; Sales and Marketing Management Magazine “no, I am not making that up” 2002-03; Newsday, 2003-2006; published Girl Boy Etc., a short-story collection, in 2004; freelancer, New York Times, ESPN.com, others, 2006-present

Personal: Lives with girlfriend (Cheryl)

Favorite restaurant (home): Bar Tabac, Brooklyn. “Perpetually crowded French place a few blocks from our apartment; if you can wade through the cloud of hipsters, the mussels are excellent”

Favorite restaurant (road): Golden Wok, State College, Pa. “Still the best Chinese food I’ve ever had anywhere in this country, including New York. I cannot explain why this is the case.”

Favorite hotel (non-Marriott division): Imperial 400 Motor Inn, State College, Pa. “Actually one of the most disgusting hotels I’ve ever stayed in, but I have fond memories of doing unspeakably stupid things here in my twenties.”

Michael Weinreb, excerpted from espn.com, June 2008:

…I do not know whether Len Bias was a martyr, or whether in death, as his mother often says, he has brought life. I do not know whether, as Jesse Jackson claimed in eulogizing Bias — likening him to Martin Luther King Jr., Mozart, Gandhi and Jesus — that the Lord “sometimes uses our best people to get our attention.” I do not know whether Len Bias died for any reason at all, divine or otherwise, beyond the fact he ingested a massive amount of dangerously pure cocaine in a brief period of time, short-circuiting the electrical impulses to his heart muscle. I do not know whether, as many claim, the Boston Celtics would have extended the Bird-McHale-Parish dynasty by several seasons if Len Bias had lived. I do not know if he was the catalyst for another decades-long New England curse. I do not know whether he would have been better/as good as/in the same stratosphere as Michael Jordan if he had lived to play in the National Basketball Association. We can argue these issues all we like, but I believe that, because the answers to such questions can never be determined, the questions have become irrelevant, obscured by the mythology that Autopsy No. 86-999 has engendered.

I do know death — especially sudden and premature death — has a way of obscuring many truths (see: Dean, James; Cobain, Kurt; et al.).

I do know I was 13 when Len Bias died, and it scared the hell out of me. It was supposed to scare the hell out of me; this was a moralistic passion play, an after-school special come to life.

I do know the public narrative was deceptively simple: Len Bias had just experienced the most euphoric moment of his life, and he had an unquestionably bright future, and he had chosen to experiment with illicit substances for the first time — perhaps, some errant rumors went, it was crack cocaine — and in a freak occurrence of bad karma, his heart had stopped.

And I do believe that because of this public narrative and the consequences of this narrative, the death of Len Bias can be classified as the most socially influential moment in the history of modern sports…

Q. Tell us about the Bias piece – soup to nuts. Why do it? How did you report it? How did it affect you emotionally? Describe the writing and editing process.

A. This was something I’d been thinking about for quite some time, actually—since the spring of ’07, when I started contemplating what my next book might be. I wanted to write about the ‘80’s as kind of the gateway to the modern era of sports, as viewed through the lens of what was happening societally – I really enjoyed the concept and execution of Jonathan Mahler’s “The Bronx is Burning”. I narrowed it down to 1986 for several reasons–I wrote a profile of Bo Jackson last fall that is also a piece of that puzzle–but in part I chose ’86 because of the scope and impact of Bias’ death.

I always think, as journalists, that we don’t look back at things as much or as comprehensively as we should, largely because in daily newspapers, you don’t have much time to do it. So I’d been thinking about it for quite some time, and then with my editors’ approval, I just dove in.

I spent three days at the University of Maryland library, digging through the university archives, watching old Betamax tapes in a dark room – which was truly haunting – and reading books and trying to get as much of a feel for that time and place as I could. I went to see Lonise Bias speak in South Carolina, then went to see her again in Maryland, and I contacted as many people as I could find. A lot of them either didn’t return my messages or declined to speak to me, and I spent several weeks trying to figure out what I had and what it all meant, and then I spent another few weeks trying to write the first paragraph. I don’t normally work this slowly, but I had the luxury of time and space here, something I’m still not accustomed to coming from a background in newspapers. The editors of the E-Ticket pieces, Jay Lovinger and Kevin Jackson, give us so much freedom to explore our creative notions that it actually scares the crap out of me.

This was definitely the most difficult and complex story I’ve ever had to write – also the longest—sorry about that. I didn’t want to merely rehash what had already been written. I wanted to explore the mythology, from the inside-out, and it took a long time to figure out how to even begin to approach that, or what the voice would be. Fortunately, in the midst of this, my girlfriend and I went on vacation, and the day we came back, I wrote what became the first sentence. I often can’t go much further until I have a lead. Then, at the suggestion of a friend of mine, I requested a copy of the autopsy report, and the structure started to adhere a little. I was never more nervous than when I sent that story off to Jay, and I was never happier than when he wrote back and assured me that it wasn’t an incoherent mess.

Q. Reaction to the Bias piece?

A. A lot. Mostly positive, people sharing their memories of where they were that day and how it affected them. I think that’s why I included my own memories in there—because I was 13 at the time, and because for our generation, and especially for nerdy kids like me who always read SI cover to cover every week, that was one of the first shared tragedies we’d ever known, along with the Challenger explosion that same year.

Some people accused me of glorifying the legacy of a drug user, which I don’t think was the point of the story at all. One guy wrote me and blamed everything on hippies. Some people accused me of engaging in hyperbole for declaring it the most socially influential moment in the history of modern sports, and they make a fair point. I should have clarified that I consider the “modern era,” in my own deeply confused mind, to be the 80’s and beyond.

I know that there are also people who think that the modern era began with the retirement of Three-Finger Brown, so that’s my fault.

But I also think a lot of people—including me—weren’t aware of the implications of the mandatory minimum sentences evoked in Bias’ name, and the thousands of people jailed for an disproportionately long time because of what happened in ’86, and the panic that ensued. And that’s a pretty heavy legacy.

Q. What are the best and worst aspects of freelancing? Are you tempted to go for a regular paycheck?

A. The worst thing about freelancing is that I can no longer steal office supplies. Also, it is impossible to know how much money to save at any given time, and I pay several thousand dollars a year for my health insurance – then again, who doesn’t – and I’m still not great at being pro-active and pitching ideas all the time, but I cannot say the lifestyle disagrees with me.

I do not like mornings very much. I’d rather work into the evening, sometimes until 1 or 2 in the morning, and I tend to write in great bursts and then spend a few days or weeks thinking about where I’m going next. I spent nine months in 2002-03 working a day job at a magazine geared toward sales professionals, and I felt like I’d been sent to a Turkish prison.

Certainly, if the right opportunity came along, I would consider it, but I’ve been incredibly lucky the past couple of years to have made enough money to support myself and live in New York City and write on my own schedule, and my primary motivation at this point is to do that for as long as I can, however I can.

In the meantime, I’m happy doing what I’ve been able to do for ESPN.com, and to share ideas with ridiculously talented writers like Wright Thompson and Eric Neel and Patrick Hruby. I love working for Jay Lovinger, as does every writer who’s had a chance to work with him, as far as I can tell. He’s the only editor I’ve ever known who’s told me, in discussing the structure and formation and reporting of a story, “You don’t have to do anything.”

Q. Did writing ‘Game of Kings’ improve your chess game?

A. My chess game was terrible when I began, and it was terrible when I finished. For several months in-between, I suffered a colossal string of losses to a trash-talking chessbot on the web, which reminded me why I attended a state school in the first place. Fortunately, there is not a lot of technical detail in the book—it is the stories of the lives and personalities and obsessions of these kids with such incredibly diverse backgrounds, who were all drawn toward chess. And they were willing to explain things, and then explain them again, until they gave up and began throwing pieces at me.

Q. Is chess a sport? Is it a metaphor for everything? If there were a professional chess league, what would it be like to cover on a regular basis?

A. Chess is probably not a sport, but golf is not really a sport, either, and it is covered on the sports page. As is bowling. There is a component of physical exhaustion in chess, but more important, it is perhaps the most purely competitive pursuit on the planet, which is why it is evoked as a metaphor for everything. And for that reason, I think “Kings” is probably as much a book about sports as is “Friday Night Lights” or Darcy Frey’s “The Last Shot.”

And, in fact, there is (well, sort of) a professional chess league. (See http://www.uschessleague.com/
) There are no beat writers that I know of, but if there were, they’d probably sit around and argue incessantly about whether Fischer could have beaten Capablanca, and then complain about the lack of a buffet.

Q. How do you keep up with sports? What and who do you read?

A. The only sport that I follow with what you might call “religious fervor” is college football. I grew up in a college town – State College, Pa. – and went to school in that same town, and so this is my obsession. Other than that, I mostly read to find interesting stories done by interesting writers who explore interesting ideas, in any genre. Sometimes I find stuff on blogs, or in places like the Wall Street Journal’s Daily Fix column.

I’ve always read a lot of magazine journalism—when I first started working in Akron straight out of college, I would try to write 400-word game stories that sounded like Gary Smith, and they were predictably terrible. I’ve long been unhealthily obsessed with both Charlie Pierce and Tom Junod of Esquire – Junod’s recent piece on the Iraq sniper was probably the best thing I’ve read all year not written by Cormac McCarthy or Richard Price. At SI: S.L. Price, Jon Wertheim, Jeff MacGregor, et. al. At the New Yorker: Everything, but especially Susan Orlean, Malcolm Gladwell, Ben McGrath, Larissa MacFarquhar. Vanessa Grigoriadis (Rolling Stone). When I was working on the Bias piece, I was in the midst of a David Foster Wallace obsession, which was both energizing and annoying.

Mike Vaccaro forces me to read the NY Post. Greg Couch (Chicago Sun-Times). Adrian Wojnarowski (Yahoo!). Jason Whitlock (KC Star). Joe Posnanski (KC Star) could spin – and probably has spun – a compelling 12,000-word yarn about sanitary socks. In fact, it’s kind of amazing how the KC Star has become perhaps the most well-written sports section in the country, right up there with the NY Times and the Washington Post. I wish more papers would follow their lead.

Beyond that, I’ve been trying to read historical tomes, like those of Halberstam and David Maraniss, to attempt to figure out what the hell I’m doing with this book. What I’ve learned so far is that I’m a terrible reporter.

Q. What did your interview with The Big Lead do for your career?

A. I don’t think anyone read it, simply because I am not feuding with anyone in the business and I do not appear on Around the Horn and I was not wearing a bikini and cowboy boots in my photo. But even if they did, I would hope that an interview on a blog would not hurt/help my career any more than any single story I’ve written. I certainly have no beef with anyone—including a blogger—who is able to carve out a niche for him/herself by working hard, as TBL seems to have done.

But I do fear, as my friend and colleague Chuck Klosterman wrote, that “the future of media is an ever-increasing number of people sardonically commenting on an ever-decreasing amount of information.” It takes time and space to do good work, and a lot of great journalists don’t have either one anymore, and bloggers, instead of mocking the decline of traditional media, should be as freaked out about that as we are, since we are often their content providers.

Michael Weinreb, excerpted from espn.com, June 2008:

…So perhaps this is one of those wishful notions — perpetuated by Len Bias’ negative drug-test results (easily manipulated), and by the claims of friends and family, and by the medical examiner’s initial opinion (later revised) that this might have, indeed, been Bias’ first experience with cocaine — that benefits everyone and harms no one. Perhaps, in burnishing a legend, the claims of Driesell and Lonise Bias (who still believes her son had never tried cocaine before, and might, in fact, have tried it accidentally, or even been poisoned that night) actually proved far more positive for society than the truth might have.

As evidence, I return to myself, at age 13, and all the other children of my generation, products of the skewed value system of the ’80s, for whom the most potent advertisement for the “Just Say No” campaign might have been the notion that a single splotch of cocaine — and this is how I imagined it as a child, that Bias had simply touched several stray crystals of processed coca leaves to his nostrils, and shortly thereafter departed this mortal coil — could kill us without prejudice, if our bodies were so genetically inclined. This is no doubt a major reason why I have never touched cocaine myself, and why, several years ago, when an acquaintance of mine who was a product of the same generation tried cocaine for the first time, he thought immediately of Len Bias, as I’m sure hundreds or thousands of others did, too.

“All of us like to generalize our experience,” says Eric Sterling, an expert on drug policy. “But it’s a big country, with a lot of different kids. I wouldn’t say that it ‘worked.'”

Still, I ask: Would Bias’ story have achieved the same status as a cultural touchstone if we had known he — while probably not a habitual user — had dabbled in cocaine for months, or that his close friend was apparently dealing cocaine, or that the truth was far more nuanced than the mythology? Is there then something to be said, at least in this case, for a (seeming) lie proving far more powerful than the truth?…

(SMG thanks Michael Weinreb for his cooperation)

L. Jon Wertheim

 

A Interview with L. Jon Wertheim

L. Jon Wertheim: Interviewed on February 8, 2011

Position: Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated.

Born: 1970, Indianapolis

Education: Bloomington (IN) High School North, 1989 – “had to get that in”; BA Yale, 1993; Penn Law, 1997

Career: “My first job out of college was working for mighty Rip City Magazine, the Portland Trail Blazers fan publication. I started working for SI when I was still in law school and have been here ever since.”

Personal: Wife, Ellie, a divorce mediator. Ben (9), Allegra (7)

Favorite restaurant (home): “Honestly, I’m over pricey, strenuously trendy food. With any luck I’ve eaten my last $40 piece of fish. Give me a burrito from my neighborhood joint
and I’m thrilled.”

Favorite restaurant (away): “One of the great perks of this job is finding obscure joints on the road. Grant Wahl and I once met halfway between Tulsa and Oklahoma City and had sensationally good bbq. The slogan was: “Don’t need no teeth to eat Lou’s meats.” I used to write to a “Road Eats” column for si.com. This sandwich shack
in South Philly is a personal favorite. More upscale, I like Wild Ginger in Seattle.”

Favorite hotel: The Heathman, Portland, Oregon. “Just a classically grand hotel, downtown with a great bar. Also, I’ve gotten into those Kimpton hotels.”

Author of: Scorecasting: The Hidden Influence Behind How Sports are Played and Games Are Won, with Tobias J. Moskowitz, Crown Archetype, 2011

L. Jon Wertheim, from Sports Illustrated, Jan. 25, 2011:

The full moon rose steadily like movie credits and then hovered on the other side of the Missouri River, backlighting downtown Omaha. It was Homecoming Night at Central High. The Eagles hosted Millard South at their new football stadium, built largely from donations from the city’s first family, the Buffetts. Over the din of cheering parents, the strains of the pep band and the refs’ whistles, a distinct voice, deep and firm, pierced the autumn air. C’mon Jemal, remember your stance!

Seated on the bleachers, eight rows back, Terry Harrington wore loafers, low-slung jeans, a denim jacket, a neatly trimmed beard and a white Kangol cap covering his bald head. “Hey, it’s Samuel L. Jackson,” an old friend yelled. Harrington, 51, caught hugs, winks and slaps on the shoulder. Behind his back, he was the object of you-know-who-that-is? looks. That’s the dude who spent 25 years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit. Harrington fixed his gaze on the game, though, tunneling in on the defensive backfield, alternately gripping a rolled-up program and then opening it to check names on the roster. That’s it Jack, get inside. Grab his pads and it ain’t holding!…

Q. As a storytelling device, why did you start and end “Wrongly Accused” at a football game at Omaha Central High?

A. Great question. I think it was important to establish that this was a bona fide sports story; not a “true crime” story that I was trying to shoehorn into SI. Also, attending that game with Terry, it was clear just how passionate, yes, but also how knowledgeable he is about football. I hoped to convey that. I also—and this is simply personal preference—lean toward starting pieces in the present, letting the reader know that this has currency. The movie screenplay likely begins on the night of the crime or graduation day in 1977. But, in my mind, the magazine piece doesn’t.

Q. What drew you to Terry Harrington’s story?

A. I’m a recovering lawyer so I try and keep tabs on the SCOTUS docket. I noticed this case and when I read about it, I learned that Terry was a former athlete. I did some digging and realized there was a potentially meaty story here. But it was the Supreme Court case—which was really about the issue of prosecutorial immunity and not about Terry’s back story—that got this on my radar.

Q. You have a law degree – how did your law background help in doing “Wrongly Accused”?

A. I think having that background helps with the research, the reporting, and “talking the talk” with lawyers and clerks. But I don’t want to overstate it. It’s amazing how quickly journalists become familiar with a subject matter. Alan Schwarz has no medical degree, but I suspect he now knows more about neurology than many doctors do.

Q. Which begs the question – why do you have a law degree and why aren’t you working as a lawyer?

A. That sound you just heard was my Jewish guilt revving up. I really enjoyed law school, but I hit this crossroads. I could take the path of least resistance and go work in a big, well-paying law firm. Or I could try and make it as a writer/media type. Follow your bliss and all. My bar membership is frozen (like in cryogenic storage) at the moment. But, who knows, maybe I’ll practice one day.

Q. Your new book, Scorecasting, is out. What was its genesis and how did you get together with co-author Tobias Moskowitz?

A. Toby is an old friend of mine from Indiana. We went to camp together in the 80s and formed a less-than-formidable doubles team on the Indiana junior tennis circuit. He went on to become an economist and is now colleagues with Steve Levitt at the University of Chicago. We were talking a few years ago and hit on an idea: “Why don’t we try to mimic the Feakonomics model with sports topics?”

Q. So how did the collaboration work?

A. We kicked ideas back and forth. “Hey we should look at home field advantage. Hey I wonder if combine results are really predictive of NFL performance.” Toby and his genius research assistants did the heavy lifting on the data front.

I got to play devil’s advocate and challenge their findings: “Did you guys control for intentional walks?” “What if a game is played on a neutral site?”

Invariably, they had already anticipated my questions and objections. Then it was my job to take the findings and weave it into a story. As Toby once eloquently put it: “You gotta make all this regression shit readable.”

Writing can be a pretty solitary exercise, even non-fiction/journalism. It was great fun to have a partner. Particularly since we’re good friends and go way back.

Q. Scorecasting says punting on fourth down is bad strategy. But as one critic pointed out, your conclusion is based on a study that “uses third-down statistics to gauge the likelihood of fourth-down success – overlooking the fact that defenses will take more risks on fourth down”. Your response?

A. Fair warning: skip this if you’re not into analytics…with an assist from Toby here’s a longwinded answer:

The problem with quantifying the success of going for it on 4th down is
that hardly anyone does it. So, for that reason, Romer – the
Berkeley economist who conducted the study – uses 3rd down plays to
calculate the success rate of 4th down tries. This obviously introduces
some error. Critics will complain about a bias whereby defenses
will take more risks on 4th down and presumably make the
offense less successful – so going for it will actually be less
attractive than you think if you only look at third down to come up with
your statistics.

First, I’m not sure the critic is right in his
premise. Do we know defenses take more risks on 4th down? Do we know
defenses are more successful on 4th down? The same problem that plagues
calculating success rate of the offense on 4th down also hampers any
calculation of how the defense responds on 4th down—there are simply
too few 4th down attempts to measure anything accurately. Also, maybe
the offense also approaches 4th down differently than they do on 3rd
down, which might counteract the defenses reaction. Also, the offense,
knowing it may go for it on 4th down, may approach 3rd down differently,
which could also confer another advantage. The point is we don’t know
which way any bias could go, and in fact there could be no bias at all.

Does this mean we can’t say anything meaningful about 4th down? No. We
can look at the calculation this way: Given the numbers Romer uses from
third down to estimate the likelihood of success for going for it on 4th
down, we can ask how much lower would the success rate on 4th down have
to be relative to the success rate on third down he uses to invalidate
the conclusion that NFL coaches go for it too infrequently? The answer
is 4th down success would have to be A LOT – like 9 times – lower than the
3rd down numbers to overturn this conclusion.

Romer identifies about
1,000 situations where going for it on 4th down – based on 3rd down
numbers – would have been the best option and finds that NFL coaches
kicked over 96% of those times. For kicking to have been the correct
call for those 960+ situations, the success rate on 4th down would have
to be many, many times lower than the numbers he used from 3rd down
plays. This seems implausible. If true, then defenses should always
play as if it’s 4th down. I find it hard to believe that a defense can
summon 9 times more effort – without the offensive effort changing mind
you – when it’s 4th down as opposed to 3rd down.

Keep in mind, too, that
since no one goes for it very often on 4th down, essentially 3rd down is
treated like the final down. So, it’s hard for me to believe that
effort level, risk taking, or success on defense is that much worse on
3rd down than it would be on 4th down. The argument just doesn’t make
sense.

This is a problem people often have with statistics. They think “Well,
if I can’t measure it perfectly than I can’t say anything about it.”
Everything – even our height, weight, IQ, etc. – is measured with error.
But, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t also have information.

The critic is
pointing out one potential error in Romer’s 4th down calculations. We would argue that error is small and doesn’t invalidate his conclusions.
That’s the nature of statistics:
we can never says things perfectly without error, but that doesn’t mean
they don’t say something.

Q. What would a Scorecasting take on murder trials and wrongful convictions look like?

A. That’s a really interesting question. I suppose I’d start with basic data v/v false convictions, exonerations, and forced confessions. Actually now that I think about it, anyone at the Innocent Project or Rob Warden’s outfit at Northwestern care for a partner on a project?

I’m thinking out loud here… but I suspect you build a pretty good composite picture of someone falsely accused. “If you had a black male suspect between ages X and X+9, a white victim, an all-white jury, court-appointed counsel with a caseload exceeding Y, a judge who used the phrase “law and order” in his re-election campaign, the odds of false conviction are 1 in Z.” That kind of thing.

Q. Who do you read in sports media?

A. The usual. Tweetdeck is going all the time. Simmons, Joe Pos, Tommy Craggs. My guilty pleasure is MMA—unless my wife is reading this in which case I gave it up, honey—so I peek at those sites. And I would read a grocery list if Sam Sheridan wrote it. This will, of course, sound self-serving and I am admittedly compromised, but I also think Sports Illustrated still reads great. Scott Price’s piece on Pennsylvania or Chris Ballard’s opus on that Illinois baseball team or Phil Taylor’s deft columns—there’s just no digital equivalent.

 

I’m really conflicted about the state of sports media. There’s a lot about it I dislike—not least, the decline of newspapers and all the talented people struggling “to do more with less” or out of work entirely. On the other hand, I feel as though as though media itself has never had more currency.

Q. Your father was an English professor at Indiana University. Does that account for your flawless grammar?

A. I guess he had the affect on I.

Q. You’ve written six sports books – what is next?

A. Good question. Lately, I’ve been doing long pieces for SI—included the Terry Harrington story we discussed—that have been accompanied by video and I have enjoyed that immensely. You read a story and say, “Great, but I’d love to hear this guy’s voice or see this woman’s face.” You see a video and you say, “Great, but I’d love to read more detail about how the bank robbery went down.” This is a way to do both.

As for books, Toby and I are thinking seriously about a sequel. Even since the release of Scorecasting last month, people have bombarded us with some really intriguing ideas. Including this one guy who asked about false convictions….

(SMG thanks L. Jon Wertheim for his cooperation)

Seth Wickersham — Part One

An Interview with Seth Wickersham — Part One

An Interview with Seth Wickersham — Part One

“Tank loves the rush of pulling the trigger. I had never shot a gun before, so on the advice of my editor, Gary Belsky, I went to a shooting range and squeezed off a few rounds of a semi-automatic rifle, just like the one Tank used to own…it helped me interview him about what he feels when he fires a gun.”

“ESPN hired an interview consultant, John Sawatsky, and he’s changed my entire approach to interviewing. His methods sound basic and elementary – ask short, open-ended questions; don’t disguise statements for questions; listen to the subject’s answers and work off them – but so many journalists don’t use them.”

“For that story he wasn’t very cooperativeFinally I pulled Peyton aside after a press conference. I had enough information to write without him and I knew specifically what holes I had. The interview lasted seven minutes but I got what I wanted out of it. You don’t need these guys to pull off a story.”

Seth Wickersham: Interviewed on January 4, 2008

Position: senior writer, ESPN the Magazine; columnist, espn.com

Born: 1976, Boulder, Colorado

Education: University of Missouri, 2000, journalism

Career: ESPN the Magazine 2000 –

Personal: married (Alison Overholt)

Favorite restaurant (home): PJ Clarke’s, Manhattan; Peperoncino, Brooklyn “love the spicy gnocchi”; Chocolate Room, Brooklyn “best desert in New York”

Favorite restaurant (road): Moose’s Tooth Pizza, Anchorage “I grew up in Alaska but I never get sent there for work”

Favorite hotel: Marriott Towers, San Diego – “a roof deck and a gorgeous view of the harbor”

Seth Wickersham excerpted from ESPN the Magazine, October 24, 2007:

Nobody needs to tell Tank Johnson why this bubbly, petite, frosted blonde is suddenly not so bubbly, why her blue eyes are darting around, why her hands are fidgeting and her voice is unsure. He knows.

The two are standing in the lobby of the Ashton, an upscale apartment building in uptown Dallas. Johnson, who’s been living out of his suitcase, is wearing the same outfit on this hot October Tuesday that he has worn for the past few days: black hat turned sideways, basketball shorts, white V-neck, metal cross dangling over his chest.

The woman is one of the managers evaluating Johnson’s rental application for this 21-story slab of luxury that offers, among other things, panoramic views of the city, valet parking, a rooftop pool, a wine room, an art gallery, a gym and a library. Johnson, the Cowboys’ new nose tackle, can afford the rent. But he can tell by the manager’s edginess as they discuss his application status that money isn’t the issue.

“We’re just, um, checking on a few things,” she says, twisting her locked hands, eyes avoiding contact. She’s trying hard to be friendly, because it’s her job.

Johnson is trying hard to be friendly too, because he knows what a Google search will bring up: that his fascination — obsession, really — with guns has led to all kinds of legal problems in the past two years; that while he was a member of the Bears last December his suburban Chicago home was raided by a SWAT team, where, according to reports, six guns, 500 rounds of ammo and two ounces of pot were found; that police feared for the safety of his fiancee and their two young daughters and escorted them out of the house; that the following night Johnson went to a club and his best friend was shot to death; that he served 84 days of house arrest last winter and 60 more in jail this spring, both for violating his probation on a prior gun charge.

Suddenly, Johnson feels the need to make his case. He asks the manager, “Can we talk alone for a moment?” Behind closed doors he tells her he’s a good guy who’s had a few credit stumbles. Never does he mention his affinity for guns. Never does he mention that his guns have been confiscated.

And never does he mention that he misses them…

Q. What’s it like being inside of Tank Johnson’s head?

A. (pause)

For me it was foreign. What you’re looking for whenever you do a story is to find some moment where you share an emotion or you can understand where somebody is coming from in a human way. When it came to Tank his specifics didn’t resonate with me, but here was a guy looking for redemption and acceptance. In some ways every person has been in those shoes, albeit not as extreme as the ones he was in.

Q. How do you cross the cultural gap between you and someone like Tank?

A. By listening and asking as many follow-up questions as you can. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in the circumstances he grew up in. I had no idea how dangerous some areas of Chicago were that he talked about visiting. The best I can do is just listen. That’s the best you can do under any circumstance. Do your best to understand where he’s coming from.

It’s so easy to write these guys off as being crazy or detrimental to society – he was put in jail for a reason. Your job is to listen and get a sense of these guys. Their judgment may not always have been sound for past actions – you want to understand that. Mike Sager has a website and tips for interviewing people. He said interviews are for listening – reserve judgments for when you’re writing.

There’s so much media today – it’s harder to get time when you can listen, to sit down and have a conversation and get into the details of somebody’s life. I have it good. ESPN helps so much. It’s beat writers and other people I feel bad for – they have to deal with the sheer quantity of people more than I do.

Q. Describe your reporting and writing process for the Tank piece.

A. I spent four days with him shortly after he signed with the Cowboys. He’d pick me up at my hotel early in the morning, and we’d go to the Cowboys facility for his workouts, then drive around Dallas the rest of the day and grab a bite at night. Obviously, we spent a lot of time together, but I wouldn’t say we ever really hit it off. A lot of it was awkward, just me watching him interact with people, including lots scenes that I didn’t use. We’d go 15, 20 minutes without saying anything. I’d wait until he started bringing up his obsession with guns on his own and then tried to get as much out of those sessions as I could.

One day, we went to a high-rise apartment building. He was applying for residency there. Once I saw how the building’s management treated him — they initially rejected him based on his problems with the law — I knew that would be the story’s arc. He was searching for acceptance every minute — from his new teammates; from the NFL; from this building’s management; from me, to an extent — while deep down missing his guns and wishing he could have them back.

Tank loves the rush of pulling the trigger. I had never shot a gun before, so on the advice of my editor, Gary Belsky, I went to a shooting range and squeezed off a few rounds of a semi-automatic rifle, just like the one Tank used to own. Frankly, I didn’t see what the big deal was. But I’m glad I did it, because it helped me interview him about what he feels when he fires a gun.

Q. Frustrations and difficulties of covering the NFL?

A. Access. People assume that when you show up from ESPN the Magazine, you get the keys to the place. Not true. Sometimes, you have to be pushy. But once you get access, you have to do something with it. You don’t want just scenes. You want moments.

Q. How do you do a story in which access is too limited?

A. You have to report around it. That’s the basics of the job. You make all the calls you do anyway even when you get access – you always want to over-report.

A couple of years ago when Peyton Manning set the NFL record for TD passes I wanted to do a story about his hand signals at the line – about why he was annoying fans by draining the play clock to the final seconds. Those audibles are his identity – a lot of people are annoyed by him and yet have a great appreciation for what he does – most have both.

For that story he wasn’t very cooperative. I worked the lockerroom, called his friends, called his parents, and talked to at least one starter at every position on offense – I even took a receiver out to eat. Finally I pulled Peyton aside after a press conference. I had enough information to write without him and I knew specifically what holes I had. The interview lasted seven minutes but I got what I wanted out of it. You don’t need these guys to pull off a story.

Q. What about the game itself – how do you reconcile with the violence?

A. By not having any illusions about it, and sharing what I know and have seen with readers so that they don’t have any illusions, either. In 2005, I spent a week in Houston with Broderick Thomas, the former linebacker whose post-NFL body is a mess. One night he unnecessarily slapped one of his sons upside the head because the kid was misbehaving at the dinner table. The child wasn’t doing anything other kids don’t do. But patience requires energy, and Thomas has none because he’s in so much day-to-day pain.

Last year, I wanted to know why (Albert) Haynesworth lost it after getting hit in the knees by a cut block and how he would prevent it from happening again. Sure, he went to league-mandated anger management counseling. But he also took an approach that, depending on how you see it, was more realistic: He went to a pass-rushing specialist in Atlanta who taught him how to break an offensive lineman’s ribs or forearm legally. And he didn’t tell his anger-management counselor about it. You can find those types of conflicting currents in almost every NFL player, albeit to widely varying degrees. So I reconcile with the violence by getting as close as I can to it and understanding it.

One of the best stories I’ve read in a while was Tom Farrey’s essay in ESPN the Magazine making a case for the NFL to legalize HGH. It was one of the most thoughtful, smart opinions I’ve ever read about the realities of pro football.

Q. What do you think about legalizing HGH?

A. I saw Tom’s point, but I haven’t investigated it as much as he did. It was a provocative essay that got people thinking ‘look, if the NFL really cares about these guys they’ll consider letting them use HGH in administered amounts – so they can heal faster.

Q. How do you explain the size of NFL players compared to 20 or 30 years ago?

A. Often I’m in the lockerroom and I wonder who out of this group of players will be one of the guys whose quality of life will be impacted by the moments they’re enjoying now. I think about that constantly.

Q. Will history view NFL writers as naïve?

A. I don’t know. It would take something like what’s happened in baseball for that to be the case. I have no idea how many NFL players are on steroids or HGH. I’d imagine the figure is higher than people would think, but I don’t know if it’s a majority.

I think if people want to be proactive about this they should listen to some things Tom wrote in that essay. He really has a forward-looking stance and a smart one and I think the league would be wise to consider it. Already some NFL players have medical clearance to use it – we just don’t know which ones. That’s one thing he uncovered. He said for medical reasons the NFL should allow some players to be administered doses of HGH. The league already does – obviously he’s on to something.

Q. What condition qualifies for legal usage?

A. I don’t think he had the details on that, but I’m not sure.

Q. How did you learn to report and write?

A. I wish I could tell you that I’ve learned. Try learning. One of my most basic reportorial lessons occurred in college with my best friend, Wright Thompson (espn.com) Missouri’s offensive coordinator had just been fired, and Wright and I were co-writing the story. We played paper-rock-scissors to see who would call the athletic director versus the canned coordinator. I lost and had to call the AD, which I did and got a few quotes. Wright called the coach, got his answering machine and said, “Look, I realize I’m the last person on Earth you want to talk to right now, but if you can find a moment to call me back I’d really appreciate it.” That was a quick lesson: Be human.

ESPN hired an interview consultant, John Sawatsky, and he’s changed my entire approach to interviewing. His methods sound basic and elementary – ask short, open-ended questions; don’t disguise statements for questions; listen to the subject’s answers and work off them – but so many journalists don’t use them. Here’s an example of John’s methods in action. During one of my interviews with Haynesworth, I asked him what he wanted to accomplish when he stomped on (Andre) Gurode. Out of context, that question would get my ass kicked. But it was prefaced with two hours of questioning, basically in chronological order, of events that lead to that point. That’s John’s thing: Get subjects into moments and keep them there. So once Haynesworth’s mind was in that timeframe, with his foot lifted, the question was fair. And Haynesworth answered honestly.

My writing has been helped most by my friends and editors, specifically Beth Bragg at the Anchorage Daily News, Greg Mellen at the Columbia Missourian, and Scott Burton, Chris Berend, Chad Millman, Gary Belsky and Gary Hoenig at the Magazine. Friends like Wright, Steve Walentik, Eric Adelson, and Bruce Feldman have been great through the years. My wife, Alison Overholt, is a senior editor at the Magazine, and she reads my stories before I file. As she does, I’ll pretend to be reading, cleaning, watching TV — anything to disguise my obsessing over what she’s typing into the Word document. She’s always right — about my stories and everything, for that matter.

Q. Journalistic and writing influences?

A. There are specific things that I’ve learned from reading great writers that I hope to someday grasp. Tom Junod at Esquire combines stylish writing with incredibly deep reporting — his profile of Frank Sinatra, Jr. is beautiful. Rick Reilly (ESPN), Tim Keown (ESPN) and Tom Friend (ESPN) are versatile in terms of sports and style and can write with personality without using first person — read the stories on Marge Schott, the horse jockey and a man who thought he was Mike Tyson’s brother. Great stuff. Reilly wrote his Schott story at 5,000 words without a single section break — a clinic on transitions. Rick Telander (Chicago Sun-Times) puts sports into a societal context without resorting to clichés. Dave Fleming (ESPN) knows the NFL so well that he effortlessly finds three or four universal truths about football in every story. Their skill is inspiring … and depressing.

Q. Who and what do you read to keep up with sports?

A. I depend on beat writers the most. I start every day by going to redzone.org – it has every link for every NFL story the local papers do. I go through those the best I can. The work those guys do keep me connected as a writer and as a fan. I appreciate the ones who do it well – often I see a phrase or a quote in a story that could turn into a story for me.

I go to espn.com, si.com, and yahoo as far as daily stuff. I read our magazine, SI and Sporting News when I can – they’ve done some smart stuff in the past year.

I try to get up early to do it. By 7 or 7:30 so it doesn’t eat up the entire day. You could literally spend all day going from link to link.

Q. Non-mainstream media?

A. I go to thebiglead.com. Aside from that I might go to Deadspin or profootballtalk.com. I don’t go to too many blogs – nothing against them.

Q. Can you be a professional journalist and a fan?

A. You have to care about what you’re doing. Dan Jenkins said the best way to write about sports is to care about them. At the end of the day you have to be at an event, or sitting across from an athlete, and you want to like what you’re doing enough that it doesn’t feel like work.

Q. How often do you write?

A. Once a week for website. I average 10 or 12 stories a year for the magazine.

Q. How much time do you get for a magazine piece?

A. Depends. The Haynesworth piece I worked off and on for over a month – I visited him twice. It wasn’t the only thing I was working on. With Tank Johnson, and Favre-Jennings I had two weeks lead. Maybe less.

Q. Why couldn’t Missouri beat Oklahoma?

A. Hard to say. I wish I could break it down like a coach could. Sam Bradford is really good. Missouri made its name this year passing the ball and Oklahoma just matches up well – they were able to break through Missouri’s pass protection and the receivers just couldn’t get open like they could against other team. They never were going to be the number one team in the country. We got lucky for that week.

As soon as they were number one in the BCS Wright and I booked a hotel and restaurant – Jacquimo’s – in New Orleans. We cancelled four days later.

Q. Is there an NFL angle to the presidential race?

A. If there is tell me because I’ll take it.

Seth Wickersham excerpted from ESPN the Magazine, January 4, 2007:

THAT’S JUST the thing: Few understand.

Haynesworth knows the hypocrisy of what we want from him. We want him to rid himself of the dark currents that pushed him to bloody a man’s face, and once purified, to be a better father, husband and man. And when he’s done with that, we want him to beat on his opponents and punch his way to the quarterback. Haynesworth is human enough to be sick over what he did, but not naïve enough to be shocked. Nor was he shocked when, shortly after his return from suspension, Chargers defensive tackle Igor Olshansky was fined for punching Broncos center Tom Nalen over a cut block. Or when Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce drilled Michael Vick out of bounds as restitution for the Falcons O-linemen’s doing much the same thing. Or when Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour stomped on the helmeted head of Colts offensive tackle Tarik Glenn after Glenn attacked the All-Pro’s knees.

The rogues who are paid millions for their brutish talents understand; they can relate to each other’s struggle to be violent on the field and virtuous off of it. That’s why Haynesworth says one of the “greatest deals of this whole thing” came not from Peters or Smith or even from Stephanie. It came in October at an Atlanta Waffle House, where Haynesworth and Smith were eating. A Lamborghini rolled up, and out walked Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, a renowned hard hitter and one of the most fined players in the NFL. Haynesworth rose to introduce himself, and Harrison broke into a warm grin before saying, “Oh yeah, I know who you are.” As they ate lunch, Harrison told Haynesworth that everybody makes mistakes, to ask God for forgiveness and to keep playing. Before leaving, Harrison gave Haynesworth his number and said, “If you’re not back with the Titans we’d love to have you.” Haynesworth says now that “just to hear it from him, a future Hall of Famer, was awesome.” It meant someone understood, in a way that even his counselor, Dr. Sheila Peters, can’t.

When Haynesworth brings up Smith’s teachings in his Monday counseling sessions, he “doesn’t go into detail because it’s just football.” And Peters doesn’t press him.

What about his wife, Stephanie? After witnessing Albert traverse both of his therapeutic paths, she says, “He’ll never admit this, but that play might have been the best thing that’s happened to him.”

During his suspension, she says, she and Haynesworth went from not communicating to, well, communicating in their own way. Right before Albert’s reinstatement, he and Stephanie were at the dinner table when suddenly he pulled out his cell and started to tap. Momentarily, his wife’s phone buzzed. Weeks later, she still hasn’t erased the text message she received. “Thanks for being w/me thru thick & thin,” it reads. “I luv you a lot.” She loves that note. She loves that her husband started going to church with her while he was suspended and even talked about getting baptized. But as soon as Albert was playing football again, helping the Titans finish the season by winning six out of the last seven, she noticed that all his emotional progress began to disappear. Stephanie had to wonder if he could be a better husband at the same time that he tried to be a better player.

And if not, which path he’d take….

(SMG thanks Seth Wickersham for his cooperation)

Seth Wickersham – Part Deux

An Interview with Seth Wickersham – Part Deux

An Interview with Seth Wickersham – Part Deux

“I think piped-in music is more necessary at pro games than college games. College fans are intrinsically different from pro fans. They’re louder, more passionate, younger. Many attendees of pro games aren’t even fans.”

“When I got home and started writing, the “what-does-it-mean?” was hard to answer—it’s always hard to answer, and I have a tendency to over-think these types of things. I knew the tone couldn’t be too earnest and stiff, but it was coming out that way regardless.”


”“We Will Rock You” is the perfect stadium anthem because it’s bare, yet has something for everyone. Not every fan, for instance, wants to sing. No matter: They can clap or stomp. And they always do. That’s why it’s held up so well for so long.”

Seth Wickersham: Interviewed on February 7, 2010.

Position: senior writer, ESPN Magazine; columnist, ESPN.com

Born: 1976, Boulder, Colorado

Education: University of Missouri, 2000, journalism

Career: ESPN Magazine 2000 –

Personal: married (Alison Overholt)

Favorite restaurant (home): PJ Clarke’s, Manhattan; Peperoncino, Brooklyn “love the spicy gnocchi”; Chocolate Room, Brooklyn “best desert in New York”

Favorite restaurant (road): Moose’s Tooth Pizza, Anchorage “I grew up in Alaska but I never get sent there for work”

Favorite hotel: Marriott Towers, San Diego – “a roof deck and a gorgeous view of the harbor”

Seth Wickersham, excerpted from ESPN the Magazine, February 8, 2010:

http://insider.espn.go.com/insider/insider/news/story?id=4864482

“You came all the way over here to talk to little old me?” asks Brian May, the legendary guitarist for Queen, sitting inside a theater in downtown London.

Yes, I did. I’m kind of annoyed with little old May, frankly. Or, more specifically, I’m annoyed at what he’s unwittingly created. You see, I’ve spent much of my life at sporting events — from University of Alaska Anchorage hockey games to the Super Bowl — and at every arena they won’t stop playing piped-in pop music. It doesn’t matter if the song is lyrical genius or absolute dreck, or even if it relates to sports. It doesn’t matter if the artist is a rock god or a one-hit wonder. If it rocks, we play it, and somehow music has become as synonymous with our games as the $12 Bud Light.

I blame May. Why? Well, there’s a list of the most-played songs at American sporting events, compiled by BMI, the music licensing company. In the top spot for 2009 was the ubiquitous “We Will Rock You,” which May wrote three decades ago in a hotel room in England. After all these years, it’s startling to see that song No. 1 with a bullet. It’s so basic and bare, two minutes and one second of two stomps followed by a clap, overlapped by the late Freddie Mercury’s thundering vocals. But “We Will Rock You” is more relevant than ever, bumping last year’s No. 1, “Pump It,” by the Black Eyed Peas, from the top of the chart. And like any song that gets played over and over (and over and over), it can start to get a little tiresome — except, of course, when it’s perfectly suited for the moment, like when the home team sacks the quarterback on third and long.

So on an early January night, I fly over the Atlantic, listening to “We Will Rock You” again and again, hoping to unearth a hidden meaning but in the end simply getting it stuck in my head. It’s still there when I hop out of a cab to meet May at London’s Dominion Theatre, where the musical “We Will Rock You” is in its eighth year. I’m ushered to a private suite and given a “We Will Rock You” program, which I flip through as “We Will Rock You” is being soundchecked. (Now I know why the U.S. military has used the song, played full blast for hours, as an interrogation technique at Guantanamo Bay.) The stomping and clapping is ringing in my ears. So when May walks in, tall and lanky, with long, frizzled hair surrounding his head like a trapper hat, my first thought isn’t that I am in the presence of the 39th greatest guitarist in history, according to Rolling Stone, or that May belongs to a Hall of Fame band that’s sold more than 300 million albums. I just want to know why the hell he’s done this to us…

Q. You wrote: “The best songs are elastic. They maintain relevance because their meaning changes over time, speaking to a greater truth without being about a larger truth.” Sounds Zen-like. What does it mean?

A. I think what I meant is that songs are ultimately about connection. No matter how that bond is forged—lyrics, music, at best a combination of the two—it has to exist. The songs that stay with you the longest might do so because their meaning changes over time, so they maintain that connection, or because they remind you of something. The songs are specifically universal, if that makes any sense. It’s hard to explain but people just sort of know it when the right music shuffles into their headphones.

Q. You wrote, “We’re the ones who need the power of music to form a community because, let’s face it, our games aren’t enough anymore.” Why aren’t games enough anymore?

A. Well, in a lot of the press boxes I’m in, the games haven’t been enough for a long time. In many ways, for media, it’s about Twittering from the game about the game, carrying on a running conversation with whoever follows you, whether it’s fans at home or other writers in the press box trying to outwit each other. The game can become secondary to the game experience.

As for sports fans as a whole, I think we’re constantly distracted. It’s so easy to check email or update your Facebook page or change your fantasy lineup. Piped-in music helps pull fans back to the action, reminding them why they paid $100 for a ticket, $25 for parking, and $12 for a Bud Light.

That said, I think piped-in music is more necessary at pro games than college games. College fans are intrinsically different from pro fans. They’re louder, more passionate, younger. Many attendees of pro games aren’t even fans. Music, as Chuck Klosterman told me when I talked to him for the magazine story, can also be a conscious attempt to appeal to non-sports fans at games that happen to be a targeted demographic—playing southern rock at race races, or metal at NFL games.

Q. Give us a rundown on the reporting and research for “We Will Rock You”.

A. As reporting magazine stories goes, it was very basic, probably the first one in years I didn’t utter, “Ok, so off the record, what do you really think?”

I got a press release that “We Will Rock You” was the most-played song at American sporting events. I immediately wanted to write about it and other stadium songs. Very few of them are about sports and are often about entirely different things—like “Y.M.C.A.,” for instance, which might be about gay sex—and I wanted to know what the musicians who wrote the songs thought about their work being synonymous with fourth-and-1. Also, the notion that we need music at our games said something about us—but I wasn’t sure what.

So I found lists of stadium anthems and reached out to the publicists of the bands that wrote them. Most were receptive. The Black Eyed Peas wasn’t, which was too bad, because I have a hunch that they are the opposite of most bands in this way: I imagine that once their songs were played at arenas, they started writing music specifically for sports, knowing that it’ll be played at games and it’s a sure way to collect royalties. For some strange reason, I see sports fans as their demo.


Anyway, in the process of talking to musicians, I reached out to stadium DJs to learn about the art of putting together playlists. That exercise is both much more and much less involved than I thought. The Broncos, for example, have an elaborate Excel spreadsheet detailing all the songs to play in various situations. But then you have the Red Sox, which play “Sweet Caroline” not because of a local connection but just because they recognized that it worked well when other teams played it.

Brian May, the legendary Queen guitarist who wrote “We Will Rock You,” was the first musician I requested to interview and the last one that I actually did. I originally asked to attend a game with him, but he lives in London and wasn’t going to be in the states before my deadline. So in January, I flew to London to meet him. We met at an old theater downtown, where “We Will Rock You: The Musical” was playing. When I got there, I was handed a few “We Will Rock You” pamphlets, with all kinds of “We Will Rock You” history, as “We Will Rock You” was being sound-checked for that night’s show. I was about to lose my mind—they wouldn’t stop playing it!—when in walked May. He was very nice, polite and slightly perplexed that I flew so far to see him. I think we talked for about two hours, in all, then I watched the “We Will Rock You” musical.

When I got home and started writing, the “what-does-it-mean?” was hard to answer—it’s always hard to answer, and I have a tendency to over-think these types of things. I knew the tone couldn’t be too earnest and stiff, but it was coming out that way regardless. I sent a few passages to Wright Thompson, my dear friend, and he called me and said something like, “Dude, you’ve gotta lighten up.” That was enormously helpful, and I was able to relax and tell the story the right way from that point on.

Q. Why do English soccer crowds sing decent songs like “You’ll Never Walk Alone” but American crowd don’t?

A.
I asked Klosterman the same thing. He said that we’re just not a chant-oriented society; we really only have Happy Birthday and various Christmas carols, as chants go. I buy that. But as I wrote in the story, I also think we—Americans—just don’t do chants well.

The end of the chant at Ole Miss games—“The South will rise again”–was blatantly racist, and it was only banned this year. Plus, the goal of chants at college games seems to be to insert the f-word at every pass, which is fine, but it loses the elegance found in “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Q. Your take on the Saints ‘Who Dat’ song?

A.

You mean the NFL’s Who Dat song? I think it’s good. It was originally used at high school games in New Orleans, before the Saints were around. Sadly, the way things are, I think everything cool has a chance to become old and clichéd really fast.

Q. Why isn’t “Na Na Na” ranked above “We Will Rock You” for all-time best?

A.
“We Will Rock You” is the perfect stadium anthem because it’s bare, yet has something for everyone. Not every fan, for instance, wants to sing. No matter: They can clap or stomp. And they always do. That’s why it’s held up so well for so long. In fact, most DJs only play the first few notes of the song, then turn it down and let the crowd take over, because they start clapping and stomping immediately, as if obeying orders. What other song has that impact?

Q. Which sports songs make you cringe?

A.
“We Will Rock You.” Especially after this story.

Q. Apart from sports songs, what do your music tastes run to?

A. Springsteen. U2. Pearl Jam. Alt-rock from the 90s. Younger bands, like Kings of Leon, Locksley, and Gaslight Anthem. Acoustic acts like Martin Sexton and the Pickin On series. When I’m working, I listen to blues like Son House or jazz. And I currently can’t stop listening to the Allman Brothers live from Filmore East.

Q. First line of your story about euthanizing racehorses: “Death is delivered pink.” Were you channeling Raymond Chandler or Robert Parker?

A. Would you believe me if I said neither? That line just kind of hit me, which is strange because usually they don’t.

Seth Wickersham, excerpted from ESPN the Magazine, May 4, 2009:

http://sports.espn.go.com/sports/horse/news/story?id=4104868

Death is delivered pink. The lethal liquid that’s injected into the jugular of broken-down racehorses is always colored. That way, a vet can find it quickly. That way, it can’t be mistaken for any other drug. There’s no time for fumbling when a 1,200-pound animal has suffered a catastrophic injury — a broken leg or a fractured ankle. There’s no time for indecision when you’re staring at a shattered jag of bone piercing the skin as if it were tinfoil. Today, a muggy New Year’s Day in New Orleans, death sits in the backseat of a white Toyota Tundra parked by the grass track at Fair Grounds Race Course. Two pink bottles glow like flashlights inside a black leather medical bag. In one bottle is succinylcholine; in another, pentobarbital. The former is a paralytic, the latter a barbiturate. Thicker than syrup, each is dispensed through a three-inch, 14-gauge needle from a syringe as fat as a corn dog. Once injected, the barbiturate puts the horse into a deep sleep; then the paralytic attacks the cardiovascular system and the brain. The bigger the needle, the faster the transport, the quicker the death. On most days, these drugs stay in the backseat, unused. On most days…

Luke Winn

An Interview with Luke Winn

An Interview with Luke Winn

“I’m not sure if it’s in direct competition with traditional mediums — it’s more of a place where things can take on a life of their own after being seen first on mainstream TV, or get noticed (like, say, the Georgia high school clip) and then end up being popular content on mainstream TV. Rather than fighting to keep their content off of YouTube, networks would be better off figuring out ways to monetize the stuff they create that has viral potential. And they’re probably more than happy to attract viewers by airing something salacious they pulled off of YouTube – like Shaq’s now-famous rap about Kobe. “

Luke Winn: Interviewed on August 28, 2008

Position: Senior Writer, SI.com

Born: 1980, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin

Education: Northwestern, 2002, Journalism

Career: SI.com 2002 –

Personal: N/A

Favorite restaurant (home): DuMont, Brooklyn, N.Y. “For the mac and cheese, with bacon.”

Favorite restaurant (away): Frostie Freeze, Fort Atkinson, Wis. –“Greatest soft-serv ice-cream stand in the world, or at least Jefferson County”

Favorite hotel: The Mile-a-way Motel, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin

Luke Winn, excerpted from SI.com, August 8, 2008:

The subject of the most-viewed YouTube sports clip of all-time, in a rather boring revelation, is the world’s most-popular sport. The video is entitled Comedy Football
. It’s a montage of soccer bloopers set to Malcolm Arnold’s The River Kwai March, and it has been watched 16.8 million times since it was posted on March 5, 2007. The most highly played sports clip that originated in the U.S. checks in at a respectable 9.1 million viewers; it’s footage of an All-Star Weekend dance-off
between Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and Dwight Howard.

If you’re looking for signs that YouTube — which has grown into an 83.4 million-video giant in just its third year of existence — has changed the sporting world, these are not it. Both are exactly the kind of light fodder that might have appeared on stadium scoreboards during downtime in the 1980s or ’90s. Our favorite sports clips, for some reason, are the ones that make us laugh, and our next-favorite sports clips, on YouTube’s most-viewed list, are highlight reels, including the ball-skills of Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho and the dunks of the NBA’s Vince Carter. On a macro level, sports fans’ viewing mediums may have changed, but our viewing preferences have not.

The real impact of YouTube on the sporting world lies in its ability to distribute a breadth of content to a massive audience. It’s estimated that the bandwidth on YouTube in 2007 exceeded that of the whole Internet in 2000, and not only are sports fans there being wowed by highlights of international soccer stars, they’re also raving over pixelated tape of a high-school freshman on a football field in Florida. Not only are they watching NBA All-Stars clown around in Las Vegas, they’re also being exposed to the comedic stylings of a D-Leaguer in Bismarck, N.D. They’re not only being served commentary from pundits on ESPN and Clear Channel; they’re also getting opinions from a basement in Bluegrass Country. Programming is less likely to be digitally encoded by major networks than it is by dedicated bloggers. And video of a wild controversy can go viral not just when it’s from the World Series, but also a prep state-title game on local-access cable in Georgia. In each of these lesser-known instances, the individuals involved are impacted by the power of Internet video. For better or worse, YouTube changed their lives.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/the_bonus/08/06/youtube/index.html

Q. You Tube is not your regular beat – how did it come about? Whose idea?

A. I’m lucky to have a bit of freedom, subject-wise. College basketball is my main beat, but I chip in on college football and also spent part of this summer writing a few baseball stories (on Davey Johnson, and then the Cubs’ bullpen) for the magazine. So there’s room to bounce around.

As for the YouTube topic, it was initially proposed to me in a general sense by B.J. Schecter, an editor for SI.com who curates our Friday “Bonus” series. Probably because I was an obsessive linker of YouTube clips in my blog and hoops Power Rankings, he asked me to figure out a way to address the impact of YouTube on the sporting world. At the time the story idea was introduced, neither of us really had any idea how the finished product would take shape.

Q. How did you decide which You Tube viral phenomena to highlight? How did you report it?

A. Before I started any reporting or writing, I spent a while just watching popular sports YouTube clips and thinking about the impact they had on their subjects. Plenty of the most popular ones starred players who are already huge celebrities such as Vince Carter dunk compilations, or footage of a player dance-off at the All-Star Game — and I felt as if their lives wouldn’t be all that different if YouTube never existed. These were essentially just the same highlight-and-blooper clips that fans had been seeing on Jumbotrons for years.

I thought that, for a story on YouTube to work, it had to involve individuals

whose lives were actually affected, for better or worse, by the spread of their

videos. That meant finding some people who were to some degree unknown prior to their YouTube fame.I thought the story could work as a series of vignettes, as long as the subjects were varied enough in nature. I set out hoping I could find someone who might loosely fit each of these five categories:

1. An athlete who became famous for his/her athletic talent via YouTube.

2. A non-athlete who launched a sports career through YouTube.

3. The person who actually uploads/encodes the most viral sports videos —

because it does take some effort for them to actually end up on YouTube.

4. An athlete who became famous for his/her comedy/antics via YouTube, and the effect of this.

5. An athlete who was negatively affected by a sports controversy on YouTube.

No. 1 ended up being Noel Devine, the running back at the University of West Virginia who became Internet-famous for his freshman-year high school highlight tape.

Nos. 2 and 3 were taken from the Deadspin world: Kige Ramsey, the one and only reporter for the fictional “YouTube Sports,” and Brian Powell, the blogger who runs Awful Announcing. As far as I could tell, Powell, who does his work with a TiVo and some cheap software in Virginia, was responsible for more viral YouTube sports clips than anyone else on the Web.

No. 4 was Rod Benson, an NBDL player whose writing — and then YouTubing — I had initially seen on DraftExpress.com. He really has a fantastic comedic voice to all his stuff, and I was interested to hear his agent, Bill Neff, speak so frankly about how some NBA GMs had considered Rod’s work a red flag. No. 5 was Matt Hill, the catcher in the infamous ump-beaning incident that occurred in a Georgia high school state title game in May. Hill was the one ducked out of the way — like he was

blocking a curve in the dirt — and allowed the fastball to sail into the ump’s

mask.

Tracking the first four subjects down wasn’t all that hard: I contacted Devine

through West Virginia, found Ramsey’s family’s phone number in Nexis, e-mailed Powell through his blog, and got Benson via his agent. The fifth one, Hill, was a lot trickier, because the story of these Stephens County High School kids had become a huge national thing — from YouTube to ESPN to Bill O’Reilly, even — in June, and neither Hill nor his family had done a single interview. They had been really scarred by the incident, and the amount of vitriol spewed at them, that they just weren’t interested in talking to anyone about it. I assumed I might just have to just report it by talking to peripheral subjects, but I also contacted the Hills a few times, just to let them know I was interested, and that I wanted to approach the story from Matt’s standpoint — not to exonerate him, but just to give a fair picture of what had happened to him since. Matt and his mother eventually agreed to talk, and the resulting story — of him being so changed by the incident that he opted not to play college baseball as a freshman — was probably the most compelling part of the whole YouTube piece.

Q. What were some of the clips that didn’t make your cut? Are there great clips that went unnoticed?

A. One thing I wish I would have included was the story of Josh Jarboe, the highly touted Oklahoma freshman who was released from his scholarship after a video of him rapping about guns made its way onto YouTube. Jarboe had been charged with a gun felony in high school, so this was a sensitive topic, but OU coach Bob Stoops had still allowed Jarboe to come to Oklahoma, and initially backed the kid when the video came out. Then the Sooners caved to public pressure over the video — which really, as rapping goes, was pretty tame — and sent the kid packing.

Brian Cook, a blogger at AOL’s Fanhouse, does a nice job of summing up the situation:

http://ncaafootball.fanhouse.com/2008/08/03/josh-jarboe-got-a-raw-deal/

I agree with Cook in that Jarboe got a raw deal.

Q. If sports fans are watching You Tube, how will they have time to watch sports on TV or listen to talk radio? Could traditional electronic media lose audience share to You Tube?

A. I’m not sure if it’s in direct competition with traditional mediums — it’s more of a place where things can take on a life of their own after being seen first on mainstream TV, or get noticed (like, say, the Georgia high school clip) and then end up being popular content on mainstream TV. Rather than fighting to keep their content off of YouTube, networks would be better off figuring out ways to monetize the stuff they create that has viral potential. And they’re probably more than happy to attract viewers by airing something salacious they pulled off of YouTube – like Shaq’s now-famous rap about Kobe.

Q. After this story, how can you go back to covering your regular beat?

A. I’ll just keep linking up clips in my normal stuff — and I’ll keep praying that more athletes like Benson come through the college ranks and start making their own videos.

Q. Who and what do you read and watch to keep up with sports – mainstream and non-mainstream? How much time do you put into it?

A. I go through my Google Reader — with about a million sports blogs – Deadspin, Yahoo blogs, etc., and music blogs – Brooklynvegan, Gorillavsbear, etc., and political blogs – DailyKos, Politico – before I go directly to any mainstream sites. You can pretty much keep an eye on your mainstream competition through Google Reader too, now that everyone has RSS feed. Google Reader has completely changed the way we digest news, probably as much or more that DVR has changed the way we watch TV.

Q. Are you tempted to do a You Tube clip?

A. I’ve considered rapping, like Jarboe. But I’d like to keep my job.

(SMG thanks Luke Winn for his cooperation)