Art Spander

 

An Interview with Art Spander

“I don’t like to get too political in sports because you turn people off and they’re trying to escape the real world in sports. I don’t blame them but in the last 20 years the real world has invaded sports.”

“I got an e-mail…from an attorney who deals with First Amendment issues and said I hit it right on – that this Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, is the worst ever – far worse than John Ashcroft – as far as protecting the First Amendment.

“I started thinking about the Guantanamo trials – this Gonzales is a bad guy – and I’m a fairly liberal guy as most journalists are. I said ‘okay, I’m going to take a stand here’.”

Art Spander: Interviewed on September 25, 2006

Position: Columnist, Oakland Tribune; contributor, London Daily Telegraph

Born: 1938, Los Angeles

Education: UCLA, 1960, political science

Career: UPI 1960-62; Santa Monica Evening Outlook 1963-65; SF Chronicle 1965-79, SF Examiner 1979-96; Oakland Tribune 1996 –

Personal: married, two daughters, one grandchild

Favorite restaurant (home): Boulevard, SF. “Nancy Oakes is the chef – wonderful food and service – incredible walnut bread and hard-crusted sourdough bread.” Garibaldi’s, Oakland-Berkeley line. “Nice wine list – good salmon and ahi.” North Beach Restaurant, SF. Quince, SF.

Favorite restaurant (road): Felidia, New York. “Italian food, one of the great Barolo wine lists – all unaffordable.”

Art Spander excerpted from the Oakland Tribune, Sept. 22, 2006, on the sentencing of SF Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams for refusing to disclose sources of leaded grand jury testimony in the Balco case:

Months will go by before the reporters are incarcerated, if they ever are incarcerated. Their attorneys said the case will be appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court if need be, and the way the Bush administration is trying to intimidate the press these days, it might need to be.

“They’re bit actors in a drama being played out as some in Washington want it to be. The man who knows, the attorney, said the Department of Justice, the people George W. Bush appointed, the people encroaching on our freedoms, don’t care about Fainaru-Wada and Williams, steroids and baseball. They care about stories in the New York Times or Washington Post, stories that come from government sources, stories that embarrass or contradict the administration.”

Q. You are the only sports columnist who came at the Chronicle “leak” story from a political angle. Why?

A. I’m 68 – I’ve been doing this for 46 years and I’ve got a lot of passions. I went to the courthouse because Rick Telander (Chicago Sun Times) asked me to go and he is a friend of mine. I would rather have been at the Ryder Cup but it was horribly expensive so I was home doing local stuff. I wanted to be there and told the office I would write a column.

I just looked at things and said this is wrong. It’s the First Amendment – not the Ninth or the Fourteenth. You’re supposed to be able to talk and write and say things in this country. Obviously some people don’t like you to do that. I don’t like to get too political in sports because you turn people off and they’re trying to escape the real world in sports. I don’t blame them but in the last 20 years the real world has invaded sports.

Roger Cossack, the attorney who advises ESPN – we spent a lot of time outside the courthouse talking. I said ‘what’s going on here?’ and he made me realize a few things. Not long ago Bush praised Fainaru-Wada and Williams for bringing attention to steroids. All of a sudden nobody wants to step in and help them. I got an e-mail – my daughter Debbie is an an attorney – she forwarded me a note from an attorney who deals with First Amendment issues and said I hit it right on – that this Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, is the worst ever – far worse than John Ashcroft – as far as protecting the First Amendment.

I started thinking about the Guantanamo trials – this Gonzales is a bad guy – and I’m a fairly liberal guy as most journalists are. I said ‘okay, I’m going to take a stand here.’ I know Mark Fainaru-Wada – one year I roomed with him covering Wimbledon. He’s very serious about what he does. His brother Steve (Fainaru, Washington Post) went from sports to news – it runs in the family. This is so ironic to me. They send Victor Conte to jail for four months and he made the drugs. The guys who write about it get 18 months.

Q. How did your readers react?

A. I got an e-mail ripping the hell out of me – these guys broke the law and why don’t I stay out of it. Before I was getting hate mail from Raiders fans. You gotta expect it as a columnist.

My first job at UPI was as a copy boy on the 10 pm to 6 am shift – we were covering the Democratic convention in LA. It was made clear to me that I am not the story. But today the reporters and columnists and TV people think they are the story. It bothers me – always writing about yourself. I call it the “Hey Martha” syndrome – “Hey Martha, did you hear what Howard Stern said?” It’s about getting attention. That’s not my approach.

I’m old-fashioned but if there’s something you really believe in and you don’t write about it then I think you’re not doing your job.

Q. What factors did you weigh in writing that column?

A. Two weeks ago I pointed out that the Raiders are going nowhere and got 50 e-mails calling me an idiot. I get daily responses from sports fans – they’re nuts – but they’re also fanatical and they care more about the Raiders and 49ers than they do about who is elected governor.

Sitting in the courtroom I was really impressed by the attorneys and by the judge – he has a job to do upholding the law. I’d like to know what he really believes. I’m listening and listening and I turned to Michael Silver (Sports Illustrated) and said, “This isn’t like interviewing Reggie Bush, is it?”

I thought it was wrong. I talked to people and drew my conclusion. My favorite remark from Red Smith was “Facts shouldn’t be based on opinions, it’s vice versa”.

Look at what’s going on. I don’t care if Barry Bonds goes to jail. It astounds me that Conte, who created this entire case – without him Fainaru-Wada and Williams wouldn’t have dug up this stuff – that he gets four months.

Q. Would sportswriters benefit from reading outside of sports?

A. Yes, and they do. I would rather sit with six or seven sportswriters than news reporters. Sportswriters get sick and tired of dealing with Raider Nation. They’re incredibly cynical with good reason – they would much rather discuss other things. But news reporters are always asking, “Did Ohio State win today?” When I speak before high school and college journalism classes I tell them to read everything in the paper – the more you know the better you can deal with anything.

In the last 20 years sport has become all about salaries, salary caps, strikes and walkouts – the real world has intruded. If you don’t understand what’s going on how can you write about it?

Q. If that’s the case how do sports provide fans an escape?

A. Good question. I go back to the famous line by Earl Warren, the governor of California and the Supreme Court Justice, who said, “I start off with the sports pages because they report the good that men do. The rest of the paper is about the bad.” That’s a paraphrase. Not any more. Every day there’s a football player arrested for beating up his girl friend, or there’s a medical crisis. But one thing about sports is that it’s original – you don’t know who’s going to win. Hamlet always dies, but you don’t know who’s going to win the game today. That’s what keeps people interested.

Also, years ago, most boys grew up wanting to be Joe DiMaggio and they never outgrow it. I’ll watch the game and my wife says, “Why are you watching Tampa Bay playing the Yankees?” I appreciate the skill that goes in there. I played high school sports and wasn’t very good, but I think once you do it you appreciate it.

Q. Should columnists do reporting to form their angles?

A. Many do. Most started as reporters. You go to an event and you should have some pre-fixed idea of what you want to write or why you’re there. If that turns out to be misleading or false then throw it out. I’ve seen columnists go to a game to write about x and it doesn’t happen and they still write about it. I think good column writing is also good reporting. You can’t just show up blind. Don’t waste people’s time with stupid questions. You gotta do your homework.

I didn’t know what my column was going to be – we don’t usually write about hard news. I saw Rick and he said, “put on a tee-shirt” – so I did – and I went into the courtroom and listened. I talked to Cossack and other people and then I had a pretty good idea of what to write.

My paper had no problem with it – which I admire. Sometimes they might say it’s too political and should be on the op-ed page.

Do I have time to tell my Marilyn Monroe story?

Q. Sure.

A. When I went to work at UPI in 1960 – the 10 pm to 6 am shift – the New York office always called in rumors we had to check out. I was in a little office on Selma Street near Hollywood and Vine, with 20 teletype machines. One night they had me chase a rumor that Marilyn Monroe committed suicide. It turns out she was in Reno making “The Misfits” with Clark Gable. So I went into the Army and got married and came back to UPI in 1962. It’s a Sunday morning in August and the office calls me and says “You better come in – Marilyn Monroe committed suicide”. Click. My assignment was to hang around the mortuary all day. That night I covered the Dodgers-Braves game.

(SMG thanks Art Spander for his cooperation)

 

 

 

 

Glenn Stout

An Interview with Glenn Stout

An Interview with Glenn Stout

“I worry that even though the online reaches everywhere, and even though anybody can blog, that it is harder for quality to be seen and read amid all the white noise. It seems that everyone is either famous or unknown, and there seems to be no well-defined track for writers to move up through the ranks anymore and learn their craft. This kind of compression squeezes good people out, and in the long run, isn’t good for the field.”

“But here’s the thing – no one and no thing has ever been able to keep people from writing and breaking through. Despite all this – perhaps in spite of all this – committed writers of talent keep writing their asses off and do great work. And if you do great work, I believe it eventually gets found. My job is to find it for BASW. That’s the goal anyway.”

“I select as if I am a reader. All I’ve ever looked for are stories that, after reading them once, I want to read again.”

Position: Series Editor, Best American Sports Writing; author and editor of numerous books

Born: 1958, Columbus, Ohio. Raised in Amlin, Ohio.

Education: Bard College, 1981, B.A. in creative writing (poetry); Simmons College, 1987, M.S. library and information science.

Career: construction worker, painter, security guard, library aide, 1978-1984; library aide and librarian, Boston Public Library, 1984 –1993; Best American Sports Writing 1991 – “Didn’t do anything you think a librarian does, but that’s where all the books were. I started freelancing in 1986 and have not been without an assignment ever since. I have been writing fulltime since 1993 and have now written ghostwritten or edited more than seventy-five titles, including Red Sox Century and Nine Months at Ground Zero. My next book is Young Woman and the Sea.”

Personal: married, one daughter.

Favorite restaurant (home): Wits’ End, Hemmingford, Quebec. “I live on Lake Champlain in northwestern Vermont and it’s only about twenty miles away. Guinness and the continent’s best fish ‘n chips.”

Favorite restaurant (away): “Don’t have one, but Guinness on the menu helps.”

Favorite hotel: “I generally don’t generally travel very much as part of my job, but I built a small cabin I consider BASW World Headquarters in the swamp behind my house just off the lake. Does that count?”

Glenn Stout, excerpted from the introduction to “Everything They Had: Sports Writing from David Halberstam”:

A number of great American writers were, at one time or another, sportswriters, ranging from Ernest Hemingway to Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, James Reston, and Richard Ford. What is unique, however, is that David Halberstam, while moving beyond sports, did not, I think, move past sports. While he never elevated sports out of proportion, sports never ceased to be important to him and he never cast sports aside as insignificant, once writing that “I do not know of any other venue that showcases the changes in American life and its values and the coming of the norms of entertainment more dramatically than sports.

Q. Do you agree with what Halberstam wrote of sports? Or was that an aficionado, in fact, elevating sports out of proportion?

A. I think that what he meant was that sports was one of only a few venues that has the reach in our society, and in our common conversation, to make those changes visible and intelligible to a great number of people. Halberstam was wise enough to see that. Another writer might have selected some other setting in which to make a similar argument, but I can’t think of anything else that has the same coherent reach as sports. After all, the only two things you can talk to a stranger about are the weather and sports.

I think the significance he attached to sports, both in the larger sense and individually, was about right. He wrote a post 9/11 essay reprinted in the book entitled “Sports Can Distract, but They Don’t Heal” that makes it clear that he certainly felt there were limitation to the role sports should play in our lives. Yet I think he also recognized that to each of us as individuals, our personal attachments to sports, either as participants or as fans, can often appear elevated from the outside, and that was even the case in his own life. His stories about fishing and being a football fans are, in a sense, out of proportion, just as is the attachment most “fans” have to sports.

He didn’t view his personal connections to sport from an academic or overtly intellectual perspective, but emotionally. And although as the quote you cited indicates he saw sports as lens that occasionally illuminated changes in our society and culture, that didn’t mean he always sought out the larger meaning in sports. When he wrote about fishing or watching football, it was because valued the way sports connected him to other people more than anything else. That’s what I particularly enjoyed about editing “Everything They Had”. You get to know Halberstam as a person in that book in a way you do not in his other work.

Q. Halberstam had a romantic view of sports and athletes, broadly speaking. Is his body of sports work conspicuous for lack of a critical investigative effort?

A. Not in a way that diminishes his work. He made it very clear that he considered his sports books and sports writing to be a different kind of work than his books on history, society and politics. They were entertainments, breaks between work he considered to be more rigorous, and intentionally different in tone and subject. I think his sports books and articles were akin to the short stories, profiles or poems a novelist might write between novels.

I write across various genres and to different audiences and I know that I approach each somewhat differently. I think Halberstam was making a conscious decision not to be overtly investigative when he wrote about sports. I’m guessing, but I don’t think he wanted to strip sports of the obvious enjoyment he took from it.

But that does not mean that he turned his back on larger issues or didn’t emphasize reporting when he wrote about sports – he was always a rigorous reporter, no matter what he was writing about. While his shorter sports stories, in particular, may not be investigative in the purest sense, books like the “October 1964” and “The Breaks of the Game”, are investigative in their approach – they reveal some essential knowledge of their subject that few other books approach. Halberstam was a smart guy – obviously. He understood and had the confidence to write each story and each book within it owns borders and not try to write in the same shape and tone every time out. I mean, “The Teammates” and “The Best and the Brightest” have radically different intentions. His approach in each was, I think, completely appropriate to the subject.

Q. Can you describe the process of selection for BASW? Numbers and types of submissions? Your role vis-à-vis the guest editor?

A. My primary role is to provide material to facilitate the selection process, and to give advice to my editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in regard to who we should consider as guest editor. I am adamant that it should be someone who is known for their writing first, and has shown an ability to write about a variety of sports.

Every year I send out a letter and ask hundreds of newspaper and magazine editors for submissions and/or, in the case with magazines, guest subscriptions. And in the foreword of the book I always invite writers and readers to submit work they feel is worthy of inclusion, and I try to make it clear that I don’t attach any stigma to a writer who submits his or her own work. The same instructions also appear on my website, glennstout.net. Really, and I try to make this absolutely clear, if I never read a story, I can’t select it, so I really don’t care how a particular story gets brought to my attention, or who brings it to my attention, as long as it does. My only frustration is that after eighteen years I still get the feeling that writers, editors and readers are not quite as forthcoming with suggestions and submissions as I would hope.

Nevertheless this still generally results in a hundred or more magazine subscriptions and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of submissions from either writers or their editors, particularly at the end of the year. I also troll around quite a bit on the internet, and receive submissions from quite a few online venues as well, and occasionally spend time in libraries looking at magazines I either don’t get in the mail or who do not send me anything. One way or another thousands and thousands of stories pass by my eyes each year, and now I have the bifocals to prove it.

I would guess that probably 80-90% of the works submitted are, roughly speaking, features and profiles or essays, as opposed to columns and game stories. Somewhat more than half come from newspapers, but that is offset by the magazine subscriptions I receive or read on my own.

My job is to pick approximately 75 stories or so that I forward to the guest editor a few weeks after the February deadline. As I make my selections I don’t worry about balance between different sports, sources or story type. If I pick the best stuff those questions will work themselves out. I even pick a few stories along the way that I personally don’t like but understand that someone else may have an opposite reaction.

The guest editor makes the final selection of the 25 or so stories to make the book, but is always welcome and encouraged to include material not submitted by me. Some, like David Halberstam, Bill Littlefield, Bill Nack and a few others have aggressively solicited my opinion and input during the selection process. Some have not. That is entirely their prerogative.

Q. Characteristics of a BASW selection? When you come across a worthy piece, how do you know it?

A. The best work announces itself pretty quickly – one example of that, I think, was J.R. Moehringer’s story “Resurrecting the Champ.” I wasn’t at all familiar with Moehringer at the time but the lead was so good I just knew the story would be terrific – it felt like a part of something much larger, which it was. I didn’t even read it all the way through before I submitted it to the guest editor.

I had a similar experience the first time I read Bill Nack’s “Pure Heart,” about the death of Secretariat. In the opening scene the vet discussed the physical size of the horses’ heart, provided a similar experience. As for the stories that don’t make the book – well, I usually recognize those in the first graph or two. If the lede fails terribly, I can’t expect a reader to keep reading and hope it gets better. Sometimes, if I read a lede and like it, I’ll skip directly to the end, to see if that holds up. I try to think like a reader in the bookstore who may pick the book up, flip it open to a story, and maybe read two facing pages – the end of one story and the beginning of another. If they don’t like what they read, they put the book down and walk away. Obviously, I don’t want them to do that.

I’ve never been able to come up with a criterion for selection that’s very complicated, and I gave up trying to do so a long time ago. I select as if I am a reader. All I’ve ever looked for are stories that, after reading them once, I want to read again. I usually read just about everything when it first arrives, and those stories I want to read again go in one pile that I save and all the others go in a much larger pile that I take to the town transfer station every Saturday. As the deadline approaches and then passes, I go through that pile I’ve saved over and over again until I’ve winnowed it down to about seventy-five stories. Then I start all over again.

After eighteen years the process is like the M.C. Escher drawing “Relativity,” the one that shows people simultaneously climbing both up and down the stairs in a loop. That’s me. This process never ends.

Q. Have bloggers cracked BASW? Do you envision that happening?

A. Oh yeah, Derek Zumsteg did in 2007, with a story from the Seattle Mariners website ussmariner.com. He analyzed the “Baseball Bugs” Warner Brothers cartoon as if it were a real event. Great stuff, and utterly, completely and entirely original.

I’m sure it will happen again, although the problem with many blogs is that since there are no space restrictions, and publishing is often instantaneous, very little editing taking place, particularly self-editing by the author. So the work can tend to meander around too much, and lack shape, or reach “print” with a glaring mistake. Obviously, too, I can’t read every blog post either, so to consider work from a blog the author has to be pro-active, print it out and send it to me. I’m not sure why, as I make it clear that I welcome online material, but although I regularly receive submissions from commercial online outlets very few “bloggers” have bothered to submit work to me.

Q. You wrote about the difference between sportswriting and writing of sports. Can you explain?

A. The first decision I made in regard to the book was to suggest we call it The Best American Sports Writing, two words, rather than The Best American Sportswriting, compound word. Sportswriting, I think, is more constrained and makes the reader think in terms of the newspaper only, writing primarily about the daily event. Given the fact that the book can appear almost two years after some of the stories inside were written, the book had to be more wide open than that, to allow for writing that was about sports outside of daily journalism.

There is simply more room to write when sports is an adjective to a noun and not the noun itself. Similarly, I use the widest possible definition of sports. I suspect at one time or another virtually every reader of the book has read something and said, “I don’t think that’s a sport.” That’s okay, because I hope the writing is good enough that they still enjoyed the experience, and if I tried to confine the definition, we’d miss out on a great deal of terrific writing. My ideal BASW story would be about a subject the reader knows nothing about, written by a writer they’ve never heard of, from a publication they have never read before.

Q. How good is sports journalism today in a historical context? How has it been affected by the decline of print, and the rise of Internet publishing?

A. You know, as a literary genre sports writing – and sportswriting – is a very young field. You can hardly identify it at all before about 1880. In most of my other work – authoring big survey history books of the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs, writing dozens of articles on sports history and editing some historical anthologies, I have read a tremendous amount of period sports writing – more, I’d wager, than just about anyone else alive.

The very best work today is, I think, better than most of the best work of thirty, or forty or fifty years ago, and far, far better than the vast bulk of work before the World War II. Writers today are more creative and have more instruments at their disposal, as well as a wider viewpoint. It is also not just the sole domain of white guys anymore, and the entry of more minority writers and female writers into the field has strengthened it immeasurably.

But the average, run-of-the-mill work – the stuff I send to the transfer station – has not improved that much. Day to day, I find far too much writing that lacks style, or else tries to substitute cleverness for style. Too much is either too dry or edited into paste and completely style-less, or a series of one note jokes pounded over and over again, writing that apes sports talk radio.

This series started at an interesting time, 1990, just before both the online explosion and the cable/satellite TV explosion. There is no question that we are in a transition, and that as the online and electronic reach expands, the print world narrows. When this series started there were at least fifty Sunday supplement magazines. They were a terrific source for stories that didn’t fit the sports page, a place for writers to grow and experiment, as well as a significant freelance market. Almost all are gone now, and many of those stories simply don’t get written anymore.

I worry that even though the online reaches everywhere, and even though anybody can blog, that it is harder for quality to be seen and read amid all the white noise. It seems that everyone is either famous or unknown, and there seems to be no well defined track for writers to move up through the ranks anymore and learn their craft. This kind of compression squeezes good people out, and in the long run, isn’t good for the field.

But here’s the thing – no one and no thing has ever been able to keep people from writing and breaking through. Despite all this – perhaps in spite of all this – committed writers of talent keep writing their asses off and do great work. And if you do great work, I believe it eventually gets found. My job is to find it for BASW. That’s the goal anyway.

Q. Five BASW pieces that should be on every bathroom shelf?

A. I’ve often thought the entire book should have a hole perforated in the corner to facilitate being hung in the bathroom, because I suspect that’s where it gets read. I’ll leave aside both the Nack and Moehringer stories I’ve already mentioned, but would otherwise be on the list, and a few more that probably should be on there are in BASW of the Century. Here goes, but if you asked me tomorrow I might make different selections.

Bill Plaschke. “Her Blue Haven”, a profile of a Dodgers fan.

Charlie Pierce. “The Man, Amen”, Pierce’s infamous story on Tiger Woods.

Gary Smith. “Shadow of a Nation”, about Native American cross country runners.

Paul Solotaroff. “The Power and the Gory”, a cautionary tale about steroid use by a body builder.

Florence Shinkle. “Fly Away Home”. A very quiet story about pigeon racing, a subject I knew nothing about, by a writer I’d never heard of. I think its tone fits her subject precisely. Her editor hated it; David Halberstam and I loved it.

Q. You are named editor of the All-Time Greatest Sports Staff? You get 10 hires. Who are they and why?

A. There are probably a hundred names I could select and not go wrong. I hope you understand that I don’t feel that it is appropriate for me to include anyone still writing – in my position I cannot and do not play favorites. So I’ll confine this primarily to the giants we stand on today, a list that is quite a bit more pale and includes more testosterone than if I were to include contemporary authors:

Ring Lardner, for his ear for the language, and because there are very few writers ever who I have found funnier. It is a real pity no one has ever collected his newspaper sports writing.

W. C. Heinz for the music of his work and the big heart that comes through it. As I wrote in the foreword to this years’ volume, I think part of BASW starts with me reading Heinz in the old Best Sports Stories collections when I was a kid.

A.J. Leibling. If for no other reason that the line he wrote about the younger writers of his generation, about whom he complained did their work and then ran home to “wife and baby” instead of, as he put it, sitting at the saloon and “soaking up information” like they should.

Red Smith because I still think he’s the best sports columnist we’ve ever had. Some people in newspapers complain to me that we never reprint enough columns in BASW. Well, that’s because not many are writing them very well – too many columns today are just brief anthologies of one-liners.

Wendell Smith, because advocacy journalism sometimes has a place. The work he and other African American sports writers did to put pressure on baseball to break the color line deserve our lasting gratitude.

David Halberstam, for his example as a reporter and for his generosity to young writers.

Harold Kaese. A bit of a sentimental choice. Kaese, who won the Spink award in 1976, wrote for the Globe for more than forty years, was a pioneer in the accumulation and use of baseball statistics as well as a terrific writer. When I worked at the Boston Public Library I pored over his archive, which gave me a crash course on not only Boston sports history, but on the life of a sportswriter.

Frederick P. O’Connell. This little known writer for the Boston Post died in 1907, before age thirty. But he was extraordinarily good for the era – the best of his work reads as if it were written today.

Shelby Strother. I encountered Strother, of the Detroit News, while editing the first edition of BASW, and only learned that he had passed away when I tried to contract him to inform him of his selection. He was really good, and, like Wells Twombley, another great writer who died too young, should not be forgotten.

Frank MacDonnell. A personal pick. He was sports editor of the Detroit Times in the 1930s and my wife’s grandfather. He took her mother out of school to meet Babe Ruth once and died young, in 1941. I have his BBWA wallet and press card and would have liked to have met him.

Glenn Stout, excerpted from the foreword to Best American Sports Writing 2007:

One writer I know recently left one high-profile writing job for another. In this person’s former position, I usually knew within a sentence or two who I was reading. But now, in the new job, each story reads just like every other story in the same publication. The writer’s style – presumably one of the reasons this person hired in the first place – is nowhere to be found.

I have since learned why. Many stories my acquaintance files are edited, not just once or twice by one or two people, but up to five or six times by a like number of editors. Machine-readable text is so easily manipulated that each editor makes change upon change upon change upon change. And each time the story is passed down the assembly line it becomes a little less distinctive and a little safer and a little more bland, until it is finally spit out upon the published page the precise same shade of gray as everything else that goes through that process. On occasion my friend show me the original copy. It is often just that, original. After comparing the original to the final product, I have sometimes wondered why the publication even bothers to include my friend’s byline. A more accurate attribution would read simply “By Just About Anybody”.

As anyone in the newspaper or magazine industry knows, these are perilous times. Print circulation is shrinking as more and more readers dive en masse into the great online sea. While reading online is, in a sense, cheaper and easier, I don’t think that’s the only reason more and more readers are doing it. I think some of it has to do with the fact that, at least to my eyes and ears, much of the material online isn’t over-edited like so much print-based writing is. Yes, lack of editing can and does result in writing that is awkward, sloppy, fatuous and indulgent – the verbal equivalent of any American Idol tryout – but sometimes it is also more lively, distinctive and ambitious.

I am not arguing that there should be no editors (well, I do know of one the world could do without), but in the wrong hands a word processor can be a dangerous, dangerous thing. If I were in charge, there would certainly be fewer editors, and most would be encouraged to take a lot of time off. Editing done for any reason other than space, accuracy, and basic clarity is pretty much guaranteed to kill any chance of authentic communication. As I prepare this book each year I read hundreds of stories that I suspect may once have been memorable but were edited into paste…”

(SMG thanks Glenn Stout for his cooperation)

Phil Taylor

An Interview with Phil Taylor

An Interview with Phil Taylor

“Something I’ve been kicking around for my web column – I find it odd that Rogers Hornsby and Honus Wagner are considered among the greatest players of all time – we have no idea how they would have done in an integrated league. Maybe they would be just as good, or maybe not quite as good. We kind of take the numbers from the pre-1947 segregated era at face value when really they were diminished, by definition, by playing in a segregated league. We say we can’t really judge how good Josh Gibson or Cool Papa Bell were because we didn’t see them against major league competition, but we accept the accomplishments of white players. I find that double standard to be strange.”

Phil Taylor: Interviewed on May 22, 2008

Position: Senior writer, Sports Illustrated

Born: 1960, Flushing, NY

Education: Amherst, BA, 1982; Stanford, MA, 1983, communications

Career: Miami Herald, 1983-87; San Jose Mercury News 87-90; The National 90, SI 1990-

Personal: married, three kids

Favorite restaurant (home): Del Sol, Menlo Park “little hole in wall but really good Mexican food – great seafood enchiladas:

Favorite restaurant (road): Legal Sea Foods, Boston “the clam chowder stands out – when I took my daughter to college at Brown we stopped there”

Favorite hotel: Mayfair Hotel, Coconut Grove, Fla. “very funky hotel with an eclectic design – all the rooms have hot tubs”

Phil Taylor, posted on si.com, Feb. 15 2008, 12:39 a.m.

If the philosopher Diogenes thought he had trouble finding an honest man in ancient Greece, imagine how frustrated he would have been in the 21st century world of American sports. After watching Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee play “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” in front of a Congressional panel on Wednesday, it would have been hard to blame him if he’d thrown up his hands, given up the search and headed for Cabo with Jessica Simpson.

It wasn’t just the dispiriting scene of one man lying through his teeth about another, under oath, that left us so disappointed. (You can draw your own conclusions as to who was lying about whom, but if you really believe Clemens was more truthful than McNamee, you’re probably expecting O.J. to find the real killers any day now.) It’s that this steroid dust-up is just the latest of many indications that honesty, the ability to tell the basic and unvarnished truth, is disappearing from sports faster than the $2 hot dog.

On Wednesday alone there seemed to be an epidemic of dishonesty, with some of the evidence crawling across the bottom of the television screen during the Congressional grandstanding, uh, hearing, on Wednesday. Right around the time that Clemens was asking the panel to believe that McNamee had injected Clemens’ wife, Debbie, with HGH but not Clemens himself (What? You find that hard to believe?) The TV ticker told viewers that Indiana’s basketball program was facing charges of five major NCAA violations, including the allegation that coach Kelvin Sampson provided “false or misleading information” to university officials and NCAA enforcement staff.

In other words, while we were listening to one sports figure (Clemens or McNamee) who quite likely was lying, we were reading about another who might very well have done the same — a veritable daily double of dishonesty. This is in addition to the ongoing NFL investigation of the New England Patriots’ Spygate affair, and Sen. Arlen Specter’s investigation into that investigation….

With all the news of the Clemens affair, the Indiana investigation and Spygate, let us not forget that depositions are currently being taken in the lawsuit against Reggie Bush, in which Lloyd Lake, a former associate from Bush’s college days at USC, alleges that Bush failed to repay him the more than $200,000 he accepted from Lake — in violation of NCAA rules — during Bush’s college career…

Who can we believe in these scenarios? Who knows? It wouldn’t be surprising if all of them were shading truth to some extent to suit their agendas. It’s difficult to look at just the past few days and not come to the conclusion that our sports are full of scoundrels — duplicitous men who evade, manipulate or even ignore the truth…

Q. You wrote recently about an “epidemic of dishonesty” in sports. Are you disillusioned with sports?

A. I guess its fair to say I am. I wasn’t naïve – I certainly knew that everyone in sports wasn’t as pure as driven snow. But it does seem as though in the last decade or so I’m just kind of stunned by the absence of integrity all over sports.

For me the steroid issue isn’t so much about who took them or how much it improves performance, it’s just the fact that all these people were walking around with this tremendous secret knowing they were cheating, going off in the shadows knowing that the adulation and compliments were really not completely deserved. It’s hard for me to understand how people could walk around with that sort of secret every day – it seems it would be a huge burden. Just the whole idea of cheating – Spygate and O.J. Mayo taking money – it seems anyone is capable of anything. It seems there’s no line people are not willing to cross, more so than in years past, as far as I can tell.

Q. Is it true you nominated the Balco reporters to be SI’s Sportsmen of the Year?

A. Yes. I felt that if by Sportsmen of the Year you mean who the greatest effect on the world of sports in that year I think you could make the case for Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. I thought they were the first ones to shine a light – that they really dragged it into the nation’s consciousness. I think so much of what we’re seeing now in terms of drug testing in baseball and all the people who confessed or were found to have used comes from them. I think that the performance enhancing drugs issue touches every corner of every sport. I really felt that the fact that they had exposed some of the dishonesty and lack of integrity made them as a good a candidate as any athlete, coach or executive.

Q. Was your nomination taken seriously?

A. I would say no. They asked a lot of us to nominate people for a website package, but there are a lot of factors that go into choosing Sportsman of the Year, including how well the issue will sell with them on the cover. Certainly a couple of reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle were not seriously in the running.

Q. What’s the best sport to write?

A. Interesting. I would probably say baseball because of the everyday-ness of it. The fact that you’re around people pretty much daily, or you can be, and have greater access to them than in the NFL or NBA. You can build more of a narrative of a season in baseball than in any other sport – it’s a constant daily every-changing picture.

Q. Do you say that because of the influence of the ‘69 Mets on you as a child?

A. Did I write about that?

Q. Yes. (see story at bottom)

A. Oh, I did. No, not because of that. In some ways baseball players can be more difficult to deal with. I’ve had more problems getting baseball players to talk to me than in any other sport, but once you do they can be interesting and form a narrative.

Q. Who gave you trouble?

A. I remember Frank Viola being a real jerk years ago when was with the Mets. He had pitched and lost a game and hadn’t pitched well. The first wave of reporters came and he said he would talk after he got dressed. But I wasn’t in that wave and I came up and asked him a question and he said, ‘Didn’t you hear what I said?’ and it became a huge screaming thing. I didn’t find it all that unusual among baseball players – it seems to happen in baseball clubhouses more than anywhere else. I don’t know why that is.

Q. Could it be the forced intimacy caused by daily games?

A. Maybe. It’s getting tougher across all sports to talk to athletes in the clubhouse. I used to cover the NBA beat for SI. In 2000 I went up to Brian Shaw, who was with the Lakers at the time, and asked if I could talk with him for a few minutes. This was 90 minutes before game time – NBA rules are that the lockerroom is open from that point until 45 minutes before tip-off. He knew who I was – I asked about the Shaq-Kobe situation at the time – and though he had talked before games in the past, now he said ‘Not before the game’. He was polite about it, but I thought, ‘Are we to the point where Brian Shaw, who is nice enough but not a star, is telling people he won’t talk’? That flipped a switch in my brain – at that point I wanted out of the NBA on a regular beat basis. It was just getting too hard to get access.

Q. How do the beat guys manage now?

A. It’s getting to the point where a lot of beat guys are getting as much information from people around the players, if not more. Agents, team executives, even members of entourages, become much bigger players in the game. They’re the ones you can get to and who will talk to you, and you won’t have to go through all the layers of publicists and lawyers.

Q. If publicists disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow how would you feel?

A. I think it would be great. Some Sports and Media Information people are fantastic and nothing but helpful, but I do feel there are a growing number who see their jobs more as gatekeepers – to be obstacles between media and athletes. It wasn’t always that way. It used to be they saw themselves as advocates for the media. For a growing number that’s not the case, especially those with teams. Now there’s a whole other layer of personal publicists – sometimes team publicists don’t have the final say. If we could strip away some layers, I’d be all for it.

Q. What’s your approach to writing for SI for Kids?

A. I got some good advice from my editors – don’t try to write down or simplify for younger readers. Write the way you write – if editors feel it’s over their heads or too complex they’ll tell me. That’s how I approach it. I haven’t written for SI for Kids a lot, but when I do I try to write exactly the same way. I’ve been told I’m an easy read – I don’t try to impress people with the beauty of my prose. I try to say things in interesting ways. Maybe that’s part of the reason I’m suited to writing for SI for Kids.

Q. Your writing influences?

A. Not a lot of individuals I would name – my writing influences came from growing up on Long Island in the 70s and reading all the newspapers: the Times, Daily News, Post, Newsday, Amsterdam News. I read a lot of newspaper sports all day every day. I remember reading Dick Young and Paul Zimmerman and Dave Anderson and I suppose they did influence me subconsciously. But there wasn’t a particular writer who influenced the way I write. But maybe there’s a bit of the New York newspaper flavor somewhere deep in my subconscious.

Q. You recently wrote about Tom Osborne’s return to the Nebraska football program. I graduated high school in Omaha. Why should I believe Tom Osborne still can get it done?

A. I think you should believe Osborne and Bo Pelini will. I don’t think Osborne has the energy to revitalize the program himself. But I think Pelini does with the guidance of Osborne, who understands the traditions to uphold, and who he should make time to see to keep the populace on his side. Osborne gives Pelini the stamp of approval Nebraskans want to see with their football coach.

Maybe I just went out there and drank the Kool-Aid but I was impressed by both men. They both realize what the other brings. Together they’re probably going to get Nebraska back in the hunt for a championship. It was amazing. I remember checking into the Cornhusker Marriott in Lincoln and making small talk with the woman behind the desk. As soon as I mentioned Nebraska football she launched into a complete analysis of the team’s Xs and Os, and what was wrong with the defense. The moment I stepped foot in Lincoln I realized it was a different kind of place.

The thing I never really could get – and (former head coach Bill) Callahan wouldn’t talk to me – is that it seemed like he sabotaged himself. If I could get the lay of the land in 10 minutes, why would someone go out there and willingly disregard it? It’s almost like he was trying to make enemies. I guess it was just ego, but it was illogical the way he went about things. I think (former AD Steve) Pederson was a big part of it as well.

Pelini talked about how much Osborne helped him. Though it wasn’t for attribution, he told me that although Callahan was to blame for what happened, he didn’t get good guidance from Pederson. Neither one of them had the kind of appreciation of what you need to make a go of it there.

Q. Would you have enjoyed covering the Negro Leagues?

A. Good question. I certainly would have enjoyed seeing some of the great players who mainstream fans don’t know much about. I probably would have felt more anger than joy. I would have felt angry these guys weren’t seen and appreciated by a wider audience. I hope I would have had the courage to write about segregation and discrimination. Would I have enjoyed it? I would have relished the chance, but I would have been too angry to enjoy it.

Something I’ve been kicking around for my web column – I find it odd that Rogers Hornsby and Honus Wagner are considered among the greatest players of all time – we have no idea how they would have done in an integrated league. Maybe they would be just as good, or maybe not quite as good. We kind of take the numbers from the pre-1947 segregated era at face value when really they were diminished, by definition, by playing in a segregated league. We say we can’t really judge how good Josh Gibson or Cool Papa Bell were because we didn’t see them against major league competition, but we accept the accomplishments of white players. I find that double standard to be strange. It was no fault of white players at that point – they weren’t given the opportunity to play against top competition.

Would DiMaggio have hit in 56 straight games if there were an Andruw Jones equivalent in center field – how many balls would have been caught? – or if he had faced the equivalent of Bob Gibson in that stretch? It seems that critical thinking or analysis of players pre-47 is absent. Historically we’ve been told these guys were great, but only in the last couple of decades have fans realized that there were great Negro League players. I can’t consider Cobb and Wagner to have been as great as they are made out to be – they didn’t have the canvas against which to prove it.

Q. Wouldn’t you have loved to see Gibson drill Cobb in the ribs?

A. Yes, that’s the video game I want. The Negro League video game – give me Cool Papa Bell or Josh Gibson behind the plate. Maybe that’s the next good idea – it will make me enough money to dump this profession.

Q. What do you read to keep up?

A. I read a lot online, which shocks me because 10 years ago if you had told me that I would have told you no way. Lots of papers – the Globe, LA Times, New York Times – all the New York papers because at heart I’m still a New York sports fan – the Mets, Jets and Knicks. Also some websites and blogs creep in – Deadspin, The Big Lead – and I check in with sj.com as well as si.com and espn.com. The San Jose Merc News is the paper I subscribe to here, but some days it sits on the porch because I’ve read it and others online. That’s scary to me. I feel like a traitor to print journalism.

Q. Your thoughts on Deadspin and The Big Lead?

A. The good points are that in some ways they keep those of us in mainstream media honest and on our toes. They point out when we’re getting stale and leaning on the same old clichés – they don’t let mainstream media get away with that, which is a good thing, it’s definitely something we needed. In the past if you wanted to be lazy and get by in this profession you could. You could write paint-by-number stories and features. Now people have more of an option. They call us out when we slip into that easy rut.

The bad point is that they can have a mocking tone sometimes, not as much from the bloggers themselves as from the commenters, that can get a little mean-spirited. In terms of Deadspin and Big Lead, if they go a little too far in that direction it’s because they’re not getting enough scrutiny and they have to look at themselves. They have to step back and decide whether the tone does go over the line. They need to make the same decisions that other journalists do. Up to now it’s been a bit like the Wild Wild West. Slowly they’re starting to regulate themselves.

Q. Deadspin is corporate and Big Lead isn’t. Do you make that distinction?

A. Good point. Big Lead is more willing to push the envelope with hot actresses and the whole leering frat guy mentality – but it’s not over the top. Some places I just click off because the sophomoric raunchy stuff is not that interesting to anybody over the age of 25 – the Big Lead has a little of that, but it has enough to keep me coming back. Which is not to say it doesn’t go over the line. It ran an item about Rick Reilly and his hi-jinks in the pressbox and to this day I have not seen confirmation. That’s these websites at their worst – they throw up rumors without any effort to confirm them. That’s failing Journalism 101.

Q. What became of Julio, the tough guy from your neighborhood?

A. I wish I knew. I’ve toyed with maybe doing a memoir and finding out what happened to these guys. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were dead or in jail, or running a successful sports apparel company. He had leadership qualities – he just needed to polish them a bit and chip away some of the rough edges. I’d like to think that’s what happened along the line.

Phil Taylor, from Sports Illustrated, May 31, 2004:

I was in the backseat of our Chevy station wagon the first time I saw my family’s new home, a two-story, gray-shingle house in the East New York section of Brooklyn, in April 1969. We unpacked what we had in the car, and after the moving van delivered the rest of the boxes, my father got back behind the wheel and drove away, telling us that he would be back soon. “He wants to get his bearings,” my mother told us. At eight years old I wasn’t sure what bearings were or where my father had to go to get them, but from the reassuring tone in my mother’s voice, I was sure that we would all be better off once he returned with some. We had come to New York from Annapolis, Md., where I could remember rolling down grassy hills near our house and lying down in fields of tall weeds in games of hide-and-seek. Compared with that, my new neighborhood seemed like a different, frightening planet. Concrete was everywhere.

Even the small garden of hollyhocks and figs that grew in front of our house, softening the property a bit, was surrounded by a black wrought-iron fence. Everything about my little corner of New York seemed dangerous and unforgiving. There would be no rolling around or lying down on this hard ground. Fall here, I thought, and the scars could last forever.

For the first few weeks I passed most of my free time listening to, watching or reading about Mets games. It was the first year I had paid much attention to sports, and I quickly became a Mets expert, knowing that when Tom Seaver was on the mound it was almost an automatic win. Jerry Koosman was only slightly less reliable, and that kid pitcher, Nolan Ryan, threw flames but was so wild he’d probably never amount to anything. I was told that the other team in town, the Yankees, used to be kings of New York, but watching them then, floundering with players like Horace Clarke and Jerry Kenney, I found it hard to imagine that anyone could prefer them to the Mets. Believe it or not, I still do.

Following the Mets from inside my house seemed much safer than what was going on outside it. East New York was a rough place. It wasn’t unusual for one of the older kids in the neighborhood to come walking down my block, Elton Street, with a welt over an eye or a blood-soaked bandage, the result of some recent brawl. The leader of the neighborhood kids was a teenager named Julio, who was short enough that most of the other teens towered over him and so slender that the white T-shirts he always wore seemed a size too big. A black porkpie hat usually sat precariously on his head, but somehow it never fell off, even when he was playing basketball or baseball.

Despite his size, Julio had a way of intimidating every kid on the block, including me. Because of my age he clearly didn’t think I was good for much of anything, but that changed when he discovered my knowledge of sports in general and the Mets in particular. Julio was the kind of sports fan who had strong opinions but few facts to back them up, which was how I was useful to him. He would argue with another kid that the Mets’ leftfielder, Cleon Jones, was the best outfielder in the National League, and I would be there to point out that Jones was third in the league in hitting, and what’s more, he went 3 for 4, with a double, against the Reds last night. “You see? You see? What did I tell you?” Julio would say.

The Mets captured New York’s attention that summer with a dramatic pennant race, and I helped Julio and the other kids on the block keep up with it. I was the one who always knew how many games ahead the Cubs were or who was pitching for the Mets in Saturday’s doubleheader. By the time the Mets won the World Series in October, I had a newfound respect on Elton Street. Kids were coming over to play baseball in my yard, and Julio was teaching me that I would hit with more power if I stopped holding the bat cross-handed. Suddenly my new environment seemed much more welcoming. As my father obviously knew, New York isn’t nearly so threatening once you have your bearings.

(SMG thanks Phil Taylor for his cooperation)

Wright Thompson

An Interview with Wright Thompson

An Interview with Wright Thompson

“I don’t consciously imitate other southern writers but I write like I talk and I was born in Clarksville, Mississippi. The voice is southern, simply because that’s the only voice I’ve got. There are certain phrases and a certain bit of nostalgia in looking at things that comes through.”

“The ideal interview is for a person not to feel interviewed but to feel like they sat down and had a conversation. When somebody starts cursing that’s always a good sign, because you’re just talking now, you’re not thinking about every word that comes out of your mouth. If you hear ‘fuck, shit, hell, goddamn’ I know you’re not parsing words. You’re just talking.”

“I’m an early riser – I was raised on a farm. I try to get up early – that helps. You need to spend the hours. The most important thing is, if you don’t have the information to come home and write, you’re royally screwed. Nothing reads as flimsy as an underreported magazine story. I obsess about these things – they consume my life.”

Wright Thompson: Interviewed on September 14, 2007

Position: senior writer, espn.com and ESPN the Magazine

Born: 1976, Clarksdale, Miss.

Education: Missouri, BJ, 2001

Career: New Orleans Times Picayune 2001-2002, KC Star 2002 – 2006, espn.com and ESPN the Magazine 2006 –

Personal: married

Favorite restaurant (home): City Grocery, Oxford, Miss. “as good a restaurant as there is anywhere – a world class bar upstairs with a balcony that overlooks the whole square – a home away from home – few places make me happier”

Favorite restaurant (road): Le Fou Frog, KC “best steak in KC, a French restaurant – when you walk inside you feel like you’re in Marseilles; PJ Clarke’s, New York, “the béarnaise bacon cheeseburger – if Scarlett Johansson were food she would be a béarnaise bacon cheeseburger”

Favorite hotel: Hay-Adams, Washington, D.C. “I don’t stay there much because it’s really expensive, but it was my daddy’s favorite hotel – it’s one of the places I can feel his presence. I don’t know if that makes me nuts but I swear it’s true.”

Wright Thompson, excerpted from espn.com, August 30, 2007:

OXFORD, Miss. — Two friends, both unhinged football fans, got married earlier this year. During the wedding reception, the bride’s father somehow got the Ole Miss band to march into the room, a blaring chorus of starched uniforms and shining brass. The groom conducted. The crowd stomped and cheered. You’d have thought folks were celebrating a 12-play scoring drive, not holy matrimony.

Soon after the wedding, I watched video of this event. Immediately, I recognized the feeling deep down in my gut. It’s something I’ve felt in so many cathedral-like stadiums. I closed my eyes, and the familiar notes sent me rushing months into the future, longing for a tailgate that escalates from simmer to burn, for the chill bumps that always come in the moments before kickoff, for the evening breezes rustling the white oaks when the game is done. My body sat in front of a computer screen. My mind was in a stadium. It was only April, and I longed for September.

I missed football season.

As you might have guessed, I live in the South, a little town named Oxford, which means my life is governed by a set of rhythms as familiar as the white-columned mansions up and down Lamar Boulevard. I love air conditioning, and I love cocktails in the gloaming on the City Grocery balcony, and I love a plate of shrimp and grits when the sun finally goes down. I love honking at Faulkner’s grave on the way home from the bar. I love cruising 18 miles an hour through campus, the speed limit set in honor of Archie Manning’s college number, passing pretty blondes driving foreign cars, courtesy of Daaaaddy, and seeing a boy sporting khakis and an SEC haircut and realizing our fathers looked just like that a half century ago. I love “Dixie” played slow and the Bob Dylan song. I love the magnolias blooming in the late spring and the incandescent heat of the summer but, mostly, I love the insanity of the fall.

Q. Do you think of yourself as a southern writer?

A. I don’t. But I hear from people all the time who think I am. I don’t consciously imitate other southern writers but I write like I talk and I was born in Clarksville, Mississippi. The voice is southern, simply because that’s the only voice I’ve got. There are certain phrases and a certain bit of nostalgia in looking at things that comes through.

My pet topic is disappearing America, and things that once were and are no longer. Those things popped up in a story in Nazareth, Texas about the girls high school basketball team, and in the Mark McGwire story. I would love to write a book about disappearing America, and what it says about America today. This comes from growing up in a place that is both disappearing physically and is losing some of its long-held idiosyncrasies.

Q. You mean like obesity?

A. We’re number one in obesity and teen pregnancy and 50th in education. In Mississippi we like to say ‘thank god for Arkansas’. That shit’s real. This is a messed up place, dude.

Q. But you love it.

A. It’s part of being from the south. It’s what Willie Morris wrote – being from the south is about having an intense love of so many things yet, if you are of a certain frame of mind, also having pretty deep regrets and embarrassments and other adjectives about the racial history of it. I had a line in my southern football story – “I love Dixie played slow and the Bob Dylan song.” That’s the essence of the south – you love the history but you also love the fact that other people had to come in to force it to change. I went to a day of the Bobby Cherry trial – as a southerner I needed to see this – to sit on those hard benches in a sultry courtroom and see racial reconciliation 40 years too late. Rick Bragg’s lead the day after it was over is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever read.

Q. Do you feel the spirit of Faulkner tapping at your window?

A. No. I just feel my editors, Jay Lovinger or Chris Berend or Kevin Jackson, wondering where the fuck their story is.

Q. As a long-form writer, are you a dying breed?

A. I don’t think so. The Internet has created a world where you can have all different forms – they can all co-exist and be successful. On espn.com we can run a 3600-word story about a young man from Georgia named Genarlow Wilson who is or isn’t wrongfully imprisoned, and also a Bill Simmons column about the Celtics. Both can appeal to different people or the same people, and both can be well read and well received. We do a lot of different things well at espn.com.

If you ask young writers who they want to be a lot will still say Gary Smith. I have Gary Smith’s phone number and I won’t call it because what am I possibly going to say to Gary Smith? A lot of people still want to be Gary Smith or Scott Price – one of those people who write those stories people remember long after they forgot who wrote them.

Q. Are there readers for long form?

A. I think so. Absolutely. Poynter did a study that showed people are more likely to read long stories online than in the newspaper. I know this anecdotally and also I get a lot of hits on stories that require an investment of time and emotion from people. Think about it. You’ve got a captive audience of people at work, bored to death in their cubicles. They’re more likely to get through a long story at work than at home when they’re trying to make lunches, get the kids ready for bed, or walk the dog.

Are there as many people who want to read Gary Smith as want to see Jenna Jameson naked? Probably not. But different story styles suit different kinds of stories. There are long stories for a reason.

.

Q. Would you describe your job as rarefied?

A. I want to answer that without sounding like a jackass. That’s true. Everybody knows those jobs are harder to get than they are to do. Frankly, I think I’m very lucky – there are a lot of people who could do my job. By hook and crook and a lot of hard work I happened to get it – I’m incredibly lucky I’m allowed the time and resources to write stories important to me, my editors and readers. It is a kind of rarefied job, not a day goes by I’m not incredibly thankful for it. I love it. I love getting up in the morning to do my job. I was transcribing tape today for a magazine story and as much as I hate doing that I love it too.

Q. You seem like a humble guy.

A. If you ask a lot of people who know me I’m a stark raving egomaniac. I think everybody’s life is interesting. I think that most of the time the story is about them – which is not to say I won’t write myself in when it helps the arc or makes it clearer. While I like first person I don’t necessarily like ‘I think I think’ stories – I think x about y so therefore z’. I like stories that are about people and especially about places. The only way to go to a new and strange place is with a little bit of humility because no matter what you know about you are talking to people who know everything about what you’re reporting on. You can’t help but go hat in hand to those places that are foreign to you.

Q. What makes a good story to you?

A. People and place. It needs to be about people. If the readers feel when the story is over that they’ve been to a place you’ve done your job. All the things Jon Franklin (“Writing For Story”) talks about – conflict and resolution, an arc – it should be muscular and flow in a logical way, and be cinematic. It’s the old movie test – if you paid seven bucks to see a story would you get up and walk out? I think it’s hysterical that we have a graf to tell people about what we’re about to tell them. Can you imagine if that happened five minutes into “The Departed”? You want to give people a road map in the story so they don’t feel lost in the desert, but also in a cinematic way that’s interesting to read.

Q. Explain cinematic.

A. In your own head you need to think about words a movie director would be thinking about. Look at the scene and character and how that first scene would introduce the character. Report visually – write down moments that are striking to you – if you write that way it will be striking to the reader. I did a road trip through China for a story and had reams of notes and I found when I looked at those notes, if I could remember it without the notes, it probably should go in. That’s the whole thing with quotes – if you can’t remember the gist of it it’s probably not that great a quote.

Q. What is your interview technique?

A. Professional interviewers might read this and have a heart attack. I try to sit down and talk to somebody. I tell them things about myself if I feel it’s relevant – it’s a two-way conversation. I look for common ground if we have similar life experiences. We just talk. The ideal interview is for a person not to feel interviewed but to feel like they sat down and had a conversation. When somebody starts cursing that’s always a good sign, because you’re just talking now, you’re not thinking about every word that comes out of your mouth. If you hear ‘fuck, shit, hell, goddamn’ I know you’re not parsing words. You’re just talking.

Q. Where do you do your best talking?

A. You have to catch me at the bar at City Grocery – on the balcony.

Q. What’s your drink?

A. Gin and tonic, if it’s still light.

Q. After dark?

A. Makers Mark and Diet Coke. I apologize to serious whiskey drinkers out there. I need a little caffeine in my life.

Q. Do your editors help you conceptualize?

A. I have great editors. A lot of times I have heavy conversations with them before I make a phone call and then during the entire process. My main e-ticket editor is Jay Lovinger – Jay is one of the deans of American magazine editing – it’s a daily honor and privilege to have his phone number, much less to call him, which I do, obsessively. His poor wife and kids must wonder who is this psychopathic redneck that keeps calling his house. His boss is Kevin Jackson, one of the head guys at dot.com and one of the smartest guys I’ve ever worked with. My editor on the column length stuff is Michael Knisley, who is a former newspaper and magazine reporter himself. He gets it.

Any success I’ve had at dot.com has a lot to do with those guys. At the magazine it’s a guy named Chris Berend, the senior articles editor who came over from Esquire. He’s great on the front end and I talk to him when I’m reporting – this is what I saw today – almost like dailies on movies. My old boss at the KC Star, Mike Fannin, was another great editor. His attitude was don’t go somewhere and scrape your nuts on the pavement – don’t waste time.

Q. How much time do you take on a story?

A. I’m so much better with more time. Reporting on a tight deadline you have to get things you know are going to work. If you do a magazine story or a long form piece for dot.com you talk to everybody and the more you talk the more you funnel it down to the essential people. I’m sure some is a crutch – I over-report to the nth degree. I’m petrified of sitting down and realizing ‘oh my god I didn’t do this’. I don’t want to stare at another flight.

I’m an early riser – I was raised on a farm. I try to get up early – that helps. You need to spend the hours. The most important thing is if you don’t have the information to come home and write you’re royally screwed. Nothing reads as flimsy as an underreported magazine story.

I obsess about these things – they consume my life.

Q. Is that healthy?

A. I don’t know. It’s the only way to do it right. You’ve got to live. The amount of stuff I read before and during a story is endless. I’m an Amazon junkie. You should see my bookshelf for ‘History of Mistrust’, which I wrote in August.

Q. How are you on deadline?

A. It’s easy to me. It’s much easier when you know this story has to be written and done at this time. You just do it. I write quick anyway. It’s instant gratification. It’s the greatest thing ever if you don’t have to spend months doing it.

Q. Do you see yourself writing outside of sports?

A. I might do something like that, probably on the side. Knock on wood – I’d like to have my job for as long as they want me. It’s a big audience. These are people who are passionate about great work and know what it is when they see it and know how to make good work great. I sound like a freaking SportsCenter commercial but I really mean it.

I like writing under the aegis of sports – you have all these people together in a lockerrom or on a team for no other reason than they hit the genetic lottery. You have a really random cross-section of people – a Jason Grimsley and Mike Sweeney in the same clubhouse, one of whom is a big cheater and the other might be the best person in sports. That’s interesting to me. Through sports I get to look at all the themes interesting and important to me.

I have two dreams. I want to write in celebration of food – there’s no food I don’t like. And I’d like to be a Waffle House short order cook one day a week.

Q. Who do you read?

A. Rick Telander (Chicago Sun-Times). Scott Price (SI). At the risk of offending a lot of my friends I think Eli Saslow (Washington Post) might be the best reporter in America. Seth Wickersham (ESPN), a dear friend, does the NFL as well as anyone. Jim Sheeler (Rocky Mountain News), wrote the Pulitzer Prize winner on the Marine who has to knock on doors. Ben Montgomery at the St. Pete Times doesn’t do sports either. Rick Maese (Baltimore Sun).

Larry Brown, a fiction writer in Oxford. You read him and you think in a million years with a million typewriters I couldn’t do this. It’s not helpful – it’s just annoying. Joe Posnanski (KC Star) is great. Brady McCollough (KC Star) who covers Kansas, is a talented young guy who writes long form stuff.

There’s lot’s of amazing talent out there. Sally Jenkins (Washington Post). Eric Adelson at The Magazine is as good a writer as there is. The E-Ticket group – Eric Neel, Wayne Drehs, Jim Caple, Patrick Hruby. It’s really exciting when you make a list – it restores your faith.

Q. How much time do you spend reading?

A. People send me stuff – I have Google alerts for people I like, for Eli and Geoff Caulkins (Memphis Commercial Appeal). I try to read the long stuff. There’s a group of us I read before it comes out and there are people I send to. Eli is always a big help. Seth is a big help. Eric Adelson is helpful. Patrick Hruby has really good stuff to say. It depends on the story – you know who can be critical or helpful. You want people who aren’t going to say ‘I love it’. You want them to say ’Here are the flaws.’

Q. Do you think gamers are obsolete?

A. They’re obsolete unless you’re writing about high school in a town, and they’re obsolete if done wrong. But they’re incredibly relevant if done right. The word ‘gamer’ kills this process before it starts. It’s a story about a game – there’s a subtle difference. There’s a reason all the winning game stories at the APSE are columns – because they’re not writing in some archaic form as dictated by an editor. They’re trying to write the most interesting story. People love those. They can be like an SI story done well, with excellent access. like Michael Silver on the balcony of John Elway’s hotel room. That’s always relevant, because it’s new.

Q. Should sports matter as much as they do?

A. Of course they should. We’re not cheering for only the Redskins or whoever. We’re cheering for their past and our association with the team. We’re cheering for and with friends who use this as social pivot. We’re cheering for our father who loved that team, for our grandfather who only wanted to see the Cubs win a championship, or for our brother who went to Bama.

These teams are physical manifestations of feelings people have for where they’re from. As people move around and are less rooted it’s a way to hold on to things that matter to them, to hold on to some part of their identity. Absolutely, it should matter. Do we have people who are obsessive – yeah. Do people seem to be more concerned about sports than politics – absolutely – and that’s ridiculous.

One of the things people have a hard time verbalizing is that down there in front of me someone is physically like me but mentally stronger. There’s a normal person who somehow can withstand the stress of making two free throws after the clock ran out. We like seeing people who are theoretically like us but can do things we can’t do.

Q. How did you approach the Mark McGwire story?

A. The initial thing was to contact everybody he ever had contact with – I called a lot of them. I kept thinking about how McGwire in essence was a story about legacy, and how legacy, if you look at it, is the things we leave behind. I wanted to go to where he came from and see the things and places he left behind and what if anything it said about where he is now. That was the concept. It started from an esoteric conversation about what is legacy – after that it was easy. You just went to the places. I got lucky with the USC alumni game – I didn’t know it was going to be on when I picked my date to travel – so the journalism gods were looking out for me. Which happens a lot – I’m amazed at the number of things you stumble into.

Wright Thompson, excerpted from espn.com, December 4, 2006:

IRVINE, Calif. — In the last house on the left, behind two gates in a heavily secured Orange County community, Mark McGwire is reinventing himself.

One part of his life, the public part, is over. A second act, in a new place with new friends, is just beginning. Bunkered within the walls of his exclusive enclave, across the street from a U.S. congressman of all things, he can look out the windows and see the mountains rising in the distance.

He likes it here on lots 82 and 83 in the Shady Canyon neighborhood, billed as a place for folks with “quiet wealth.” Far from the glitz of Beverly Hills and from the O.C.’s ocean-front palaces, it’s for people who don’t want to be found. A computer system scans license plates for undesirables; security guards stop strangers and, if a home owner doesn’t say “yes,” send them on their way. From the outside, the houses look like battleships.

This is where the 43-year-old McGwire spends his days. Five years ago, he retired as one of baseball’s most beloved players. His legacy is different now. The Hall of Fame ballots went out last month, and no one knows if he’s in or not, or if he even cares or not. That’s how he likes it, of course. He’s not here to talk about the past.

He sidestepped questions from Congress. He doesn’t do interviews, including one for this story. He didn’t go back to St. Louis during the World Series. But it’s more than just avoiding the media and fans. McGwire never seems to talk about the past. To anyone. In fact, he seems intent on leaving his past behind.

“I haven’t even spoken to him since he retired,” says Randy Robertson, a buddy from childhood and one his college roommates at Southern Cal. “I don’t know who his best friend is now.”

“I haven’t spoken to him in a while,” says Mark Altieri, the slugger’s former spokesman.

“I haven’t seen him in ages,” says Tom Carroll, his high school baseball coach.

“He just wants to slink away,” says Ken Brison, son of a former McGwire foundation board member.

“We never talk about politics or baseball,” says U.S. Rep. John Campbell (R-CA 48th), his neighbor.

His Mediterranean-looking mansion at the end of a cul-de-sac is such an unlikely end for a star of one of the most magical summers baseball has ever known. McGwire’s future will be inside Shady Canyon, with his new wife, Stephanie, and young kids, Max and Mason, and at the breathtakingly expensive golf course nearby.

“That’s where he is all the time,” says friend Justin Dedeaux, son of the late Rod Dedeaux, McGwire’s coach at USC. “He stays behind those walls and that’s it. No one ever sees him. He just completely dropped out. I don’t know if he talks to anybody.”

“But what of the past that he wishes everyone would forget?” Even if he cuts ties, it’s still there. The places where he grew up, the friends he once knew, the life he once lived, that’s McGwire’s legacy. Even if he doesn’t speak, it speaks for him….

(SMG thanks Wright Thompson 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
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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)

Alan Schwarz

An Interview with Alan Schwarz

An Interview with Alan Schwarz

“…my job would be to gather information on — in this case — the causes and effects of brain injuries among football players, not to assess any marketing hit the league might sustain as a result. That being said, to steal from P.T. Barnum, it seems to me that few if any industries have ever gone broke by overestimating Americans’ zest for violence.”

“I have decided that given the fractured state of American media, and the impending demands that journalists create stories for delivery across a spectrum of platforms, I am better served not thinking of myself as a writer — though of course I am committed to that first — but as a content developer/provider, primarily print but audio and video as well. Journalists who fight that probably won’t be journalists for long.”

Alan Schwarz: Interviewed on April 27, 2007

Position: reporter, New York Times

Born: 1968, White Plains, N.Y.

Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A., mathematics, 1990

Career: The National (Editorial Assistant, 1990); Baseball America (Senior Writer, 1991-2007), Inside Sports (Media Columnist, 1997-98), New York Times (contributor, 1998-2007, staff reporter, March 2007 –

Personal: married, one son.

Favorite restaurant (home): Ruth’s Chris Steak House, NY “I know it’s a chain, but it’s sinfully good every single doggone time”; Ivy’s Bistro, TriBeCa “I ate there right after 9/11 with a restaurant-reviewer friend, the review helped save the place, and I’ve been friends with the owner ever since”

Favorite restaurant (away): Wild Ginger, Seattle “incredible Asian/fusion food, great atmosphere, referred there by ESPN’s Jim Caple”

Favorite hotel: Renaissance Madison, Seattle “mostly because I love Seattle in the summer”

Author of:Once Upon a Game”, 2007; “The Numbers Game”, 2004

Alan Schwarz excerpted from the New York Times, January 18, 2007:

Since the former National Football League player Andre Waters killed himself in November, an explanation for his suicide
has remained a mystery. But after examining remains of Mr. Waters’s brain, a neuropathologist in Pittsburgh is claiming that Mr. Waters had sustained brain damage from playing football and he says that led to his depression
and ultimate death.

The neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu of the University of Pittsburgh
, a leading expert in forensic pathology, determined that Mr. Waters’s brain tissue had degenerated into that of an 85-year-old man with similar characteristics as those of early-stage Alzheimer’s
victims. Dr. Omalu said he believed that the damage was either caused or drastically expedited by successive concussions Mr. Waters, 44, had sustained playing football.

In a telephone interview, Dr. Omalu said that brain trauma “is the significant contributory factor” to Mr. Waters’s brain damage, “no matter how you look at it, distort it, bend it. It’s the significant forensic factor given the global scenario.”

He added that although he planned further investigation, the depression that family members recalled Mr. Waters exhibiting in his final years was almost certainly exacerbated, if not caused, by the state of his brain — and that if he had lived, within 10 or 15 years “Andre Waters would have been fully incapacitated.”

Dr. Omalu’s claims of Mr. Waters’s brain deterioration — which have not been corroborated or reviewed — add to the mounting scientific debate over whether victims of multiple concussions, and specifically longtime N.F.L. players who may or may not know their full history of brain trauma, are at heightened risk of depression, dementia and suicide as early as midlife.

The N.F.L. declined to comment on Mr. Waters’s case specifically. A member of the league’s mild traumatic brain injury committee, Dr. Andrew Tucker, said that the N.F.L. was beginning a study of retired players later this year to examine the more general issue of football concussions and subsequent depression.

Q. Where is the NFL concussion/brain damage story headed?

A. By putting three stories on the front page this year, the Times clearly has evinced itself as committed to examining the risks, both understood and not, of playing football with respect to brain injuries. I’m afraid I can’t go into further details because your site is undoubtedly read by my competition.

Q. How has your coverage of NFL concussions/brain damage affected your perception of the game?

A. I really didn’t have any perception of football per se before I began my work. While I know my share about football through watching games over the years, my professional background has been almost exclusively covering baseball. I think it is a positive — for readers, the Times and the NFL — that my work on this topic began and continues with as clean a slate as could reasonably be expected.

Q. Could football lose audience if fans draw a causal relationship to brain damage – similar to boxing?

A. You are assuming that fan interest in boxing has declined because of the pugilistica dementia suffered by some of its participants. I don’t know that to be true. Beyond that, my job would be to gather information on — in this case — the causes and effects of brain injuries among football players, not to assess any marketing hit the league might sustain as a result. That being said, to steal from P.T. Barnum, it seems to me that few if any industries have ever gone broke by overestimating Americans’ zest for violence.

Q. Explain your use of video to complement your stories – what restrictions and gray areas exist? What multi-platform strategy would you recommend to a young journalist starting out today?

A. This is a fascinating new area that I have tried to learn quickly — basically to stave off my own professional obsolescence. As we all know, newspapers have had to adapt to demands of the market (particularly among youth) for multimedia content. Also, they don’t want to just listen to some Jewish guy from New York who couldn’t play sports to save his life prattle on about the games and personalities — they want to see and hear the players themselves.

So I decided about a year ago to learn how to cut and produce my own audio and video stories on my laptop, using software like Audacity and Adobe Premier. When I did an interview with Si Simmons, a 110-year-old former Negro Leaguer, for a print story in the New York Times, I brought along a video camera — and produced a 10-minute highlight reel for my website, alanschwarz.com. When I conducted interviews for my book of player memories (“Once Upon a Game”), I also produced audio clips so people could go to my site and hear the players talking rather than just reading their words on a page.

I have decided that given the fractured state of American media, and the impending demands that journalists create stories for delivery across a spectrum of platforms, I am better served not thinking of myself as a writer — though of course I am committed to that first — but as a content developer/provider, primarily print but audio and video as well. Journalists who fight that probably won’t be journalists for long.

Q. Who and what do you read in sports? Who were your writing influences?

A. The best baseball writer working today, bar none, has for years been Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated. No one else mixes such precise reporting, grace, structure, humor and understanding of the game than him, and it’s not even close. Less known to most folks is the wonderful work done for 20 years by Jerry Crasnick (ESPN.com) and Jim Caple (ESPN.com). I have no formal journalism training at all – I was a mathematics major, for heaven’s sake – but in many respects those three guys taught me how to do this.

Other primary influences include the lyrics of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Paul Simon, and the long and wonderful sentences of Scott Fitzgerald.

(SMG thanks Alan Schwarz for his cooperation)

Tom Shatel

An Interview with Tom Shatel

An Interview with Tom Shatel

“I hate to say it, but the voices of sports columnists get a little bit lost these days, with cable, talk radio, and Internet.”

“It’s almost like fans want to be sportswriters, through the blogs.”

Tom Shatel. Interviewed August 23, 2006.

Position: Columnist, Omaha World-Herald.

Born: 1958, Tulsa, Okla.

Education: University of Missouri, BJ, 1980.

Career: KC Star 1980-90, Dallas Morning News 90-91, Omaha World-Herald 1991-

Personal: Married, two children.

Favorite Sports Movies: Caddyshack, Tin Cup, Hoosiers, Paper Lion.

Hobby: Golf.

Tom Shatel excerpted from the Omaha World-Herald, October, 25, 1995:

In his illustrious 23-year career as Nebraska’s head coach, Tom Osborne has made more than his share of good calls. This is not one of them.

I have always respected Osborne as a man and, secondly, as a football coach. But some of that respect was lost Tuesday when Osborne announced that Lawrence Phillips, who assaulted his ex-girlfriend on Sept. 10, was reinstated to the team and would be allowed to play Nov. 4 against Iowa State.

But I’ve lost even more respect for University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials, including Athletic Director Bill Byrne, who allowed Phillips to return this season. The University of Nebraska is less a quality institution today than it was yesterday. And Byrne less an athletic administrator today than yesterday.

One of the school’s students, a female, was beaten up by a fellow male student. One of Byrne’s female student-athletes was beaten up by one of his male student-athletes. And now we’re supposed to all return to the field and pretend this never happened.

….One thing is for sure: The rest of the country will see Osborne in a different light. Just months ago, the entire nation seemingly embraced him for a stately career of service to young people and the game of football. When the cleanest coach finally won the “Big One,” it gave America hope.

But today there is a spot on Osborne’s image. America is in no mood to tolerate domestic violence, especially this month, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Now Osborne has taken a young man who committed physical violence on a woman and returned him to the field in two months. Osborne says, “I can take the heat.” The heat will come, like never before.

Q. Which of your columns created the strongest response?

A. October, 1995, when (Nebraska football coach) Tom Osborne brought (running back) Lawrence Phillips back to the team (after a domestic violence incident). I said as gently as possible that it was a big mistake, that playing college football is a privilege, not a right, that you could accomplish the same thing by letting him practice if he needs structure, and by being around the team and going to study hall, that playing him sent the wrong message. I basically questioned the authority above him. That got some nice play. The majority of readers basically told me to shut up and sit down and leave town or whatever. One letter I got from a grandmother in Grand Island blamed it on the girl for getting Phillips in trouble.

I’ve talked with Tom about it since and totally believe he had the right motives – he did it for the right reasons. But I totally disagreed with him. The bottom line was Tom was trying to play him so he could get drafted and get the hell out of there.

Q. Did it change your approach to the job?

A. Not really. I was never told what to write here. I felt like I could say what I wanted. I think surviving that gave me a little more strength. I don’t flaunt that. I try to go the other way. I try to be less loud and offer more perspective. I don’t think we get enough perspective in journalism. Everything is way too loud – too much style and not enough substance. Does that make sense?

Q. Do columnists have to be moral and ethical judges?

A. That’s your job if you are a columnist. You’re not a reporter. You do it with less credibility than a priest or a judge. There’s so much out there now, I hate to say it, but the voices of sports columnists get a little bit lost these days, with cable, talk radio, and internet. It has changed the landscape of what we’re trying to do. It’s a lot different than 20 years ago.

Q. But isn’t the World-Herald still dominant?

A. This is one of the last bastions where a newspaper still is big. Everybody still reads it. Obviously small towns have Internet, but I think my voice is still bigger here than in other places. There isn’t much competition; we’re the only paper that circulates in the whole state. I think I’m the only full-time columnist in the state. There is talk radio in Omaha and blogs.

Q. How much impact do the blogs have?

A. A lot of fans put more stock in blogs than newspapers. It’s interesting to me. I read a lot of blogs and message boards. Some of these blogs are obsessed with getting things first. They want to break stories and they do. It happens. Their members know somebody and they get something. It’s almost like fans want to be sportswriters, through the blogs.

Q. Do you keep up with the blogs and message boards?

A. I like to see what the average fan is saying. Not that it affects what I write. I like to see what they’re saying. It’s like a giant sports bar. Or a bunch of small sports bars where people hang out and talk about football or sports. It’s fascinating. I hate to say it but in some cases our credibility is not what it used to be. It’s eroded.

A couple of years ago we had a story breaking here. Our sports editor said we’d hold off until the last edition, until after the TV news is over, and we’ll have a scoop. I said it will be on a website in an hour – don’t wait. We waited, and consequently we were last when we went up an hour later.

A lot of readers are going to rivals.com sites. Huskersillustrated.com is part of rivals. They do features and break news. Some of these guys help the coaches recruit, so they get scoops. They’re full-time staffers, but some of these guys are in bed with the schools and coaches.

Q. But their credibility will suffer in the long run, won’t it?

A. The public doesn’t care. People out there think huskersillustrated.com is the place to go if you want Nebraska news. It had a story today – an Arizona State quarterback is transferring to Nebraska. That’s reality. But it’s unfair if they’re in bed with the coaching staff and get special access. So it’s a different world. I think that’s where we’re going. Newspapers will exist for columns and perspective.

The other thing is if you go to J-school, be aware of this, franchises, pro sports franchises, are hiring writers who cover the teams for the websites. Jonathan Rand, who wrote a column for the KC Star, is covering the Chiefs for kcchiefs.com. What kind of access does he get? I’m wondering how long before the colleges start doing this. Before they say “we’re going to control all the information and you’re going to get what we want you to have.” Some coaches have websites – you have to monitor them to see when they break some news.

My question is “Who is the journalist?” The newspaper or the pro sports franchise? And these are guys who used to be on newspapers. The line is going to get very blurry. If you’re a fan are you going to the Boston Globe or to the Red Sox website? Hopefully you go to the Globe. It’s got one of the best sports sections around. I love to read Dan Shaughnessy and Bob Ryan.

There always will be a need for a columnist – that’s why I have a great job. But if you’re a beat writer you’re going up against rivals.com, mlb.com, kcchiefs.com, and a lot of different forces. How is the information being released in the future?

Q. But isn’t being first over-rated? What’s the difference if you post news 20 minutes earlier if your credibility is compromised?

A. I hope so. Would you rather be first or would you rather be the outlet that tells you why it happened and have the good in-depth interviews and great writing, plus the integrity and credibility? If I were the sports editor my tack would be to be best rather than first.

It’s a wacky world now if you want to be a sportswriter. And it’s changing by the year. I’m not trying to paint a scary picture.

Q. What do you read?

A. I dropped my subscription to SI because I wasn’t reading it anymore. Lots of stuff was old. I think they lost their fastball. I read espn.com. They have good writing and it’s right now. I love Rick Reilly and Gary Smith. But some stuff in SI, by the time it comes out, I’m on to the next deal.

Q. What about SI.com?

A. I read SI.com, sure. But the magazine is obsolete.

Q. Do you read ESPN the Magazine?

A. It has very good writing, too. But I always thought it was hard to read. I don’t know if it’s an ad or a story half the time. I do like the writing. But I’m not going to read Stuart Scott’s column, for god’s sake. They just hired Wright Thompson. They’re hiring very good writers.

Q. How do you stay abreast of the news?

A. Sportspages.com. If I want a column or a takeout on something that happened it’s right there. And espn.com. SI.com, CBS sportsline.com and foxsports.com all have the same stuff – basically they’re all doing the same quality. I go to espn.com out of a personal choice. I know a lot of their guys who cover colleges.

Q. Why doesn’t sportspages.com pick up World-Herald stories?

A. I don’t know. I e-mailed the guy who does that – Rich Johnson – and said I’d love to be on there occasionally. He said we needed to archive my columns but our website won’t do that.

Q. Does it have a regional bias?

A. Maybe the things we write about aren’t interesting to national people. They don’t do a lot of college stuff anyway. You don’t see a lot of Austin American-Statesman stuff.

Q. How powerful is sportspages.com in the industry?

A. It’s just a bookmark. I glance at the Top 10. I’m not interested in half the stuff. I read every sports section in the Big 12 every day. Topeka, Wichita, Boulder, Denver, Lawrence, Des Moines, St. Louis, KC. Some in the morning – some at night.

Q. Keeping up is a major task?

A. With two kids, yes. But look, in the old days I went to a bookstore in downtown Kansas City and bought week-old papers.

Q. It’s easier to be smarter today?

A. No excuse not to be.

(SMG thanks Tom Shatel for his cooperation)

TOM SHATEL

‘Osborne’s Decision Bad’

25 October 1995

The Omaha World-Herald

(Copyright 1995 Omaha World-Herald Company)

In his illustrious 23-year career as Nebraska’s head coach, Tom Osborne has made more than his share of good calls. This is not one of them.

I have always respected Osborne as a man and, secondly, as a football coach. But some of that respect was lost Tuesday when Osborne announced that Lawrence Phillips, who assaulted his ex-girlfriend on Sept. 10, was reinstated to the team and would be allowed to play Nov. 4 against Iowa State.

But I’ve lost even more respect for University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials, including Athletic Director Bill Byrne, who allowed Phillips to return this season. The University of Nebraska is less a quality institution today than it was yesterday. And Byrne less an athletic administrator today than yesterday.

Pretending One of the school’s students, a female, was beaten up by a fellow male student. One of Byrne’s female student-athletes was beaten up by one of his male student-athletes. And now we’re supposed to all return to the field and pretend this never happened.

There was plenty of time to deliberate this decision, plenty of time to mull the consequences. This was no knee-jerk reaction. But as soon as Phillips was reinstated as a student by the university on Monday, Interim Chancellor Joan Leitzel and Byrne stepped aside and let Osborne handle the tough decision, which was made in his mind long ago.

It’s not surprising Ms. Leitzel wouldn’t intervene; as an interim chancellor, this was one hot potato. But I thought Byrne would step in and hold up a stop sign. I thought wrong. As a UNL spokesperson said Monday, “Coach Osborne has the ability to suspend somebody from the team or bring somebody back.”

True. After all, Osborne is the football coach.

And maybe he’s a lot more, too.

‘Good Judgment’ “What I saw was 35 years of good judgment,” said Byrne, referring to Osborne, “and I had more access to information than the general public did. After I had access to that information, I was in complete agreement with Tom.

“This action doesn’t say what happened was right. This action says that if this had happened to Joe Q. Student, he would not be banned from extracurricular activities as long as he was a student.

“Lawrence has had sanctions and is continuing to have sanctions. Now the question will be, are those sanctions severe enough? That is a debatable point. Everyone who looks at the case will look at it a different way.”

What it looks like is carte blanche for future male students at Nebraska to harass or abuse females and get similar treatment. Byrne disagreed.

“This action does not condone what happened,” Byrne said. “This action says if you commit acts of violence, there will be sanctions. I believe the previous and ongoing sanctions justify his return.”

Restitution What we know is that Phillips must pay restitution for damage done at the apartment complex he broke into and medical or counseling fees for Kate McEwen. Those won’t be inexpensive. He also must participate in regular meetings with his counselor and psychiatrist and perform two hours of community service a week. And any further sanctions of the Student Code of Conduct “will result in significantly more severe sanctions.”

In other words, next time he may have to play on the scout team for two weeks.

If these are the university rules and sanctions, then they need to be updated. An action like this, whether premeditated or under “out-of-control” circumstances, should include a ban of all extracurricular activities – particularly for someone like Phillips, who was supposedly out of second chances. Expulsion may be a bit harsh. But maybe we should ask the victims of physical abuse and date rape about that.

So why would Osborne allow Phillips back? The image around the country will be that this is all about victories and championships, but that’s not even close.

This is all about Osborne, as college football’s Father Flanagan, looking at all the evidence and circumstances and trying to save a young life. This part of the job isn’t in his contract – Osborne offers it strictly out of his heart.

As Spencer Tracy said in the movie “Boys Town,”: “There is no bad boy.”

“Tom firmly believes in the inherent worth of young people and everyone has to have the opportunity to correct mistakes,” Byrne said. “This isn’t the Ayatollah regime around here. We don’t cut off hands, legs and feet.”

But Osborne said Phillips had been warned about staying away from McEwen and was out of chances when the incident occurred. Osborne‘s biggest mistake was initially dismissing Phillips, then reversing field and opening the door in order to give Phillips a carrot to shoot for.

Phillips‘ is a poignant story. He spent much of his childhood without parents, getting beaten down by life, without much female love to speak of. McEwen was apparently his first love, and he snapped. It’s a sad story. But, again, none of that excuses what he did.

And when Osborne says football is a “major organizing strength” in Phillips‘ life, it should be remembered that Phillips had football in his life the night he scaled a wall and dragged McEwen down the stairs.

Osborne is gambling that that won’t happen again, that weeks of counseling have changed a young man. He says, “I think we’ll see a little different person.”

We better see a lot different person.

One thing is for sure: The rest of the country will see Osborne in a different light. Just months ago, the entire nation seemingly embraced him for a stately career of service to young people and the game of football. When the cleanest coach finally won the “Big One,” it gave America hope.

But today there is a spot on Osborne‘s image. America is in no mood to tolerate domestic violence, especially this month, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Now Osborne has taken a young man who committed physical violence on a woman and returned him to the field in two months. Osborne says, “I can take the heat.” The heat will come, like never before.

Why bother? Because Osborne doesn’t care about the public outcry and won’t be swayed by the “popular thing.” Osborne has always marched to his own drummer, always been stubborn about his ways and morals. He listens to his conscience and it must be filled with emotion. On Tuesday, his voice quivered and nearly cracked when he talked about Phillips.

“I really, really tried to do the right thing,” Osborne said. “I’m prepared to live with it.”

He will have plenty of support in his home state, mostly from people who say “I trust Tom. Whatever he says is good enough for me.”

But from what I have heard and read in letters the past week, I also know that many other Nebraskans have lost some respect for Osborne today. That’s too bad. It just adds to the saddest story.

Perhaps the saddest part is that a young woman was violated here, then got lost in the debate.

Through it all, several people have wondered why Minnesota Vikings quarterback Warren Moon could beat his wife, apologize and play again without question, while Phillips is being held to another, higher standard. The best answer to that is that Phillips is still a college student and, hopefully, colleges are in the business of preparing America’s youth to become better people.

Today, the University of Nebraska has to ask itself if that is what happened here.

Bud Shaw

An Interview with Bud Shaw

An Interview with Bud Shaw

“I noticed as the confrontation was developing that lots of players and media were moving away from where Albert (Belle) and I were standing. I could see one guy sidling toward me out of the corner of my eye. Finally Sandy Alomar Jr. rushed in and saved me from possibly being pile driven or hit with the roll of quarters Albert no doubt kept in his waistband for just such occasions.”

“It was then I turned to find Plain Dealer baseball writer Paul Hoynes at my side. Hoynsie is one of the greats. He also happened to play rugby at Marquette. I told him I appreciated him not moving away like everybody else and asked him what he was going to do if Belle started getting physical. He said, “Go for his legs.” He’s been my hero ever since.”

Position: Columnist, The Plain Dealer

Born: Aug. 23, 1954, Philadelphia

Education: Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 1976, B.S. Journalism

Career: Kittanning (Pa.) Leader Times, 1976-77; Johnstown (Pa.) Tribune Democrat, 77-78; Trenton (N.J.) Times, 78-80; Philadelphia Daily News 80-82; San Diego Tribune 1982-84; Atlanta Journal-Constitution 1984-89; The National Sports Daily 1989-91; The Plain Dealer 1991 –

Personal: Married, two children

Favorite Restaurant (home): Momocho, Ohio City – “mod Mex with any kind of guacomole you can imagine.”

Favorite Restaurant (away): P.F. Chang’s – “Hear me out. Yes I know it’s a chain but I’m vegetarian and they know their way around tofu”

Favorite Hotel: The Hotel del Coronado, San Diego

Bud Shaw’s ‘Sports Spin’, excerpted from The Plain Dealer, August 14, 2008:

Braylon Edwards will likely miss two exhibition games.

Edwards, needing stitches after teammate Donte Stallworth spiked him, might be a blessing for the Browns.

The NFL preseason is already too long. Whatever small setback Edwards might experience in either conditioning or in chemistry with quarterback Derek Anderson is offset by the fact that this injury reduces the chances of him suffering a more serious one – like having Shaun Rogers fall on him.

Part of growing up

Edwards Part II: Romeo Crennel gives new meaning to the phrase, “What, me worry?”

Crennel’s explanation for why Edwards was running in his socks along with teammates wearing spikes showed a lack of concern among other things.

“Kids are kids,” Crennel said. “You look at kids. They take their shoes off and run around all the time. . . We’ll educate him a little bit more and tell him about keeping his shoes on until he gets inside.”

Just for clarification, Edwards is 25.

Educational class topics over the next three weeks could include: “Running With Scissors – Why It’s a Bad Idea” and “You Can Put Somebody’s Eye Out With That”

Got an ID?

Legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi believes some gymnasts on the gold-medal Chinese team are underage.

As long as the International Gymnastics Federation insists on a minimum age and only requires a government issued passport as proof, there will be questions about the “youth movement” in some countries.

China’s Deng Linlin (4-6, 68 pounds) and Jiang Yuyuan (4-7, 70 pounds) have raised suspicions, basically because they could fit on your dashboard.

“They are using half-people,” Karolyi told the Associated Press. “One of the biggest frustrations is, ‘what arrogance.’ These people think we are stupid.”

The two high chairs set up at China’s team meals did seem a dead giveaway.

What, no motoball?

The Beijing Games are draw-ing good ratings for NBC.

You know the reasons. Michael Phelps. The beauty of gymnastics and diving. Ratings should improve even more when track and field starts.

But there’s also a lot of unwatchable events, too.

Here’s my list of the worst Olympic sports, Summer and Winter, after covering three of each (Calgary, Seoul, Atlanta, Nagano, Sydney and Salt Lake City).

1. Shooting: Spectators sit in auditorium-like seating. The target is projected overhead for viewing. Think of the worst audio-visual class you’ve ever sat through.

2. Doubles luge: Really, get a room.

3. Greco-Roman wrestling: Apologies to Matt Ghaffari, but 30 seconds into heavyweight matches both big men are too slippery to grab. Sumo without the diapers.

4. Modern Pentathlon: The roots trace to 708 B.C. Now that’s modern.

5. Biathlon: Paint-ball guns aimed at each other would be an improvement.

Note: It’s not an Olympic sport, but the strangest international sport I’ve ever witnessed came during the inaugural Goodwill Games in Moscow in 1986 – motoball. Teams of motorcycle riders would advance an oversized soccer ball down the field and attempt to kick it in a goal. For some reason, no one ever shows up at goalie tryouts.

Say cheesy

The Spanish men’s basketball team is defending a team picture that is running as a full-page ad in Spain.

The photo shows all 15 players using their fingers to make their eyes look slanted while posing on a basketball court adorned with a Chinese dragon.

“We felt. . . it would be interpreted as an affectionate gesture,” Spain point guard Jose Manuel Calderon wrote on his ElMundo.es blog.

How warm and fuzzy. Calderon said the team took a cue from the photographer.

Who was the photog? Don Imus?

Q. Your ‘Sports Spin’ column reads like stand-up comedy. Does that come naturally? Do you have to be a smart aleck to be a sports columnist?

A. When I was asked to contribute a Page 2 column, I remember wishing I could print out the work of some guys I really admire in the business — Dave Kindred, Bob Verdi, Scott Ostler, Steve Hummer, Norman Chad, Ray Ratto, Mark Whicker – put it all under my pillow and wake up wittier by osmosis. Writing funny is difficult, a fact I prove twice a week. And in a newspaper that runs Chad, who makes it look easy, that may not be the smartest approach. I once followed Gary Smith on the Eagles beat at the Philadelphia Daily News. I have those same feelings of inadequacy now when I read the humor that other columnists, not to mention writers like David Sedaris, bring to the job

I don’t know if it’s a requirement to be a smart aleck but deep down I guess I’ve never been able to take sports all that seriously. So much about the oversized stage sports enjoys in our culture – thank goodness for that — and the egos involved invites you to look at it a little sideways. When I was at The National as the Chicago Bureau Chief I got to read Verdi and Bernie Lincicome regularly. Two approaches but the same bright, funny result.

Q. Did you write off the Indians prematurely? Will the real Indians please stand up?

A. I broke a 17-year streak and picked a local team to win a world championship in the pre-season. Of course, it hasn’t been difficult to avoid looking like a front runner in a town where the last title was 1964. But I thought the Indians could return to the World Series this season. So I wrote them in before I wrote them off. Injuries were a part of the reason for their collapse but as they proved in August when they not only were missing Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Jake Westbrook but had already traded away C.C. Sabathia, Casey Blake and Paul Byrd, they could’ve played competitive baseball much sooner. We should know by now that the real Indians do stand up, but only every other year or so.

Q. Is it touchy to ask why you didn’t go to Beijing? Did you wish you were there?

A. The Plain Dealer had three Olympic credentials but turned them back in to the U.S. Olympic Committee because of budget considerations. I was not scheduled to go. My Olympic flame isn’t quite extinguished but I covered my sixth Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 and haven’t felt a great desire to do another since. I think it’s a great event.

But I’ve long felt it was a tremendous TV show first and foremost, a TV show that hasn’t always translated to print. Of course, the Internet offers much more immediacy than we had as writers covering the Olympics in the 1980s and early 1990s. I was lucky enough to be in Calgary, Seoul, Atlanta, Nagano, Sydney and Salt Lake. I covered the Atlanta bid for the 1996 Games before leaving Atlanta for The National. It was a great experience. If I don’t go to another, well, three Winters and three Summers feels like a pretty good career sampler.

Q. You’re known for being a good interviewer. How do you get people to open up? Who was your toughest interview?

A. There’s a basic curiosity we all have or we wouldn’t have elected to go into sports writing. I think being a good interviewer – not that I’m sure I belong in that category – is a product of the jobs you’ve held. I was a beat writer first, then a takeout writer, then a columnist. I think beat work makes you comfortable with approaching players, coaches and other interview subjects because you have to do it daily. The takeout work I did in San Diego and Atlanta helped me look a little deeper into subjects,. Just the nature of that job allows you much more time to get to know people.

I found it a little unnerving in Atlanta where I worked for the late Van McKenzie who was willing to give you a lot of time to interview and write if he felt he’d see the benefits in the finished product. I’d go a few weeks or more without being in the paper and when I came into the office I knew people were thinking, “What a slacker, this better be good when he finally writes it.” It made you go back and make sure you got what you needed from the people you were talking to for the story.

Probably the toughest interview I ever did was with Bob Knight. A mutual friend – Dave Kindred – had smoothed the way for me with Knight. I knew that going in. But I wasn’t quite prepared for what that meant to Knight. Every time I asked a question he didn’t like, he’d lean in and say, “You know, don’t you, that there’s only one reason I’m even talking to you.” He was alternately charismatic and nasty. I felt I was talking to the smartest guy I’d ever met. But the bullying was always there and when the interview ended, he asked me if wanted to go do dinner with him and one of his coaches. I didn’t go. I’d already had enough of the Good Cop-Bad Cop treatment, all from the same guy.

Q. What do you look for in choosing your columns? Do website hits influence your choices?

A. Website hits haven’t really changed my approach. It has always been true in Cleveland that if you write about the Browns the response is often overwhelming. If you dropped the names “Kosar” Or “Modell” into a column on synchronized diving I’d bet you’d lead that day’s count in letters and phone calls.. And now if you update the references and can work in Brady Quinn’s name and the term “quarterback controversy” somewhere along the way, there’s no limit to the website hits you’d get.

Really, other than being aware of people’s passions – Browns, LeBron, anything anti-Steelers – I don’t purposely write things just to get a reaction. Maybe I should but it’s always felt contrived to me to be that columnist who screams for the sake of screaming – not to mention that you end up contradicting yourself before too long.

Q. Your most controversial column? Any columns you wish you hadn’t written?

A. I have a different answer to this than some of the PD readers might have. I still get mail from a guy who reminds me that I wrote that Manny Ramirez was such a disaster fundamentally as a rookie that he should be sent back to the minors even if it meant playing Wayne Kirby in his place. I don’t remember suggesting that Manny be banished to Triple A for a period no shorter than the rest of his life until he could learn to lay down a good squeeze bunt but I’ll take the hit on that one. That was shortsighted. Of course, when Wayne Kirby goes into Cooperstown, who will have the last laugh then? Huh? Right. Me.

A column I always consider “controversial” was one I wrote on Albert Belle during his 50-homer, 50-double season. I thought it was controversial because it led directly to a debate in Albert’s mind as to whether I should be body slammed or simply thrown off the mezzanine level. I spent part of the column writing about how this guy had made himself into such a student of hitting by keeping index cards in his locker and adding to his card catalog after every game. What pitches he saw. The count. The ump. The situation. He’d make notes on all of it. I found out he did that from interviewing manager Mike Hargrove and one of his coaches, Davey Nelson. When I approached Albert to talk to him about it, he cursed me and told me to go away. That was par for the course with him.

I mentioned in the column that if he even tried just a little not to be the world’s biggest jerk, he’d own the city. It led to an ugly scene in the clubhouse the next day. Albert accused me of going into his locker and reading his index cards. Uh, right. Nobody, including other players, went anywhere near Albert’s locker. I’d be more likely to willingly visit a hell mouth.

I noticed as the confrontation was developing that lots of players and media were moving away from where Albert and I were standing. I could see one guy sidling toward me out of the corner of my eye. Finally Sandy Alomar Jr. rushed in and saved me from possibly being pile driven or hit with the roll of quarters Albert no doubt kept in his waistband for just such occasions.

It was then I turned to find Plain Dealer baseball writer Paul Hoynes at my side. Hoynsie is one of the greats. He also happened to play rugby at Marquette. I told him I appreciated him not moving away like everybody else and asked him what he was going to do if Belle started getting physical. He said, “Go for his legs.” He’s been my hero ever since.

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

A. I like the Sportspages.com site. Not just the Top Ten but I go through individual papers to read how different columnists handled a big event, or a developing story. I mentioned some of the people I seek out on a consistent basis but there are a bunch more that are so good they make me feel like going into another business.

I do that at least three or four times a week along with checking ESPN several times a day. Since it’s a topics show, I try to watch Pardon the Interruption as much as possible. There might be something Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon throw out for discussion that leads me to an item for the notes column. Those guys are great together so I watch simply to be entertained, too.

Q. Is LeBron destined to leave the Cavs? Say it ain’t so.

A. That’s a question that strikes at the heart of the Cleveland sports fan because it ratchets an already deep-set inferiority complex. LeBron is a local guy AND HE STILL MIGHT LEAVE? Not just leave but go to New York?

I believe James will leave and when he goes it should be with no feelings of guilt associated with abandonment. He’ll have given the Cavaliers seven years. That’s enough of a commitment even if they don’t win a title before he goes. And if they do win a title, he’ll have delivered something the city hasn’t seen in almost a half century. When you’re 23 and grilling Warren Buffett for his keys to success, and when the talk is of becoming a “global icon,” it tells me he’s thinking a little beyond the 330 he’s got tattooed on his body. That’s the Akron area code. Me? When I was 23 I was only drinking shots with Warren Buffett. And now I forget everything he told me.

Q. Can the Browns make the playoffs with those awful brown pants? Do they need a logo on their helmets? Have you ever incurred the wrath of the Dawg Pound?

A. A reader recently lamented that the Browns, barring “divine intervention,” looked on track to become even a bigger disappointment than the Indians were in 2008. I happen to think they’ll make the playoffs because their offense is that good. I think it’s a far better place to put your trust than in The Man Upstairs. Not that I’m an atheist. But it should be obvious to everyone that if God cared even a little about Romeo Crennel’s team he wouldn’t have let them take the field in those all-brown pants during the exhibition season. Those things needed a stripe or a Tinker Bell buckle or something,

I like the helmets without any logo. I hope they stay that way. I do a “PD Roundtable” TV show once a week and occasionally someone will call in and wonder if it’s time to bring back the elf. Seems back in the day an elf logo showed up on the parkas the team would sometimes wear on the sideline. I ask you. Does it sound like a good idea for a city trying to get beyond inferiority issues to rally around an elf?

Bud Shaw, The Plain Dealer, August 3, 2008:

The odds of Manny Ramirez wearing a Cleveland hat when he goes into the Hall of Fame just got better by default.

Of course, they are still outweighed by the odds he will forget to wear any hat, shirt, pants or shoes and will be inducted in his fright wig and nothing else.

“When people ask about Boston, I put my brain on pause,” Ramirez said in his first press conference with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He meant he didn’t want to revisit the acrimony that followed him to L.A. at the trade deadline.

In truth, though, Ramirez’s brain needs no prompting to go on pause. It spends chunks of every day idling there.

“Pause” is a natural default function when his head gets too filled with the nettlesome details of baseball – number of outs, hitting the cutoff man, even stuff like remembering that as the left fielder he’s really not the cutoff man for the center fielder.

Manny played and talked his way out of Boston, saying the Red Sox didn’t deserve him.

Some teammates who tolerated his quirky behavior over the years didn’t find the humor in Ramirez taking himself out of the lineup against the Yankees and not running hard with a chance to break up a no-hitter in another game.

Ramirez doesn’t believe that his teammates turned on him, preferring to think the front office is spreading stories like that to discredit him in the eyes of Boston’s fans.

Let’s just say that makes La-La Land the perfect place for him.

Boston newspapers reported Ramirez tried to lobby to stay with the Red Sox at the deadline, which wouldn’t be surprising since his career is dotted with instances where he didn’t know whether he was coming or going.

Agent Scott Boras told reporters that Ramirez “preferred another city along the lines of the lifestyle he had in Cleveland.”

Yessir. Cleveland and L.A. Peas in a pod.

I was just making that point to Martin Scorsese over skewers of braised tofu at lunch in the shadow of Progressive Field the other day. “Marty,” I said . . .

So Boston is more intense than L.A. Tell me something I didn’t know.

Lifestyle wasn’t Ramirez’s problem. He didn’t really have a problem until he crossed the line from quirky free spirit to the half-dog, half-diva he became in his final season there.

“The Red Sox don’t deserve a player like me,” Ramirez told ESPNdeportes.com Wednesday. “During my years here, I’ve seen how they [the Red Sox] have mistreated other great players when they didn’t want them to try to turn the fans against them.

“The Red Sox did the same with guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez, and now they do the same with me. Their goal is to paint me as the bad guy. I love Boston fans, but the Red Sox don’t deserve me. I’m not talking about money. Mental peace has no price, and I don’t have peace here.”

He’s right about one thing. The Red Sox didn’t deserve him. They deserved a grown-up.

(SMG thanks Bud Shaw for his cooperation)


Frank H. Shorr

An Interview with Frank H. Shorr

An Interview with Frank H. Shorr

“Future opportunities for employment in the sports media field lay on the local fronts…Community newspapers and small market television stations… Though they won’t pay on the same scale, the chances of working should be greater and if a journalist can bring multimedia skills to the table, he or she should be able to find employment.”

“Knowing how to cover the story is only half the battle, presenting and marketing the story are just as important. Can you shoot your own video? Can you edit on your laptop? Do you have your own website? Are people following you on Twitter? A no answer to any of those questions can be disastrous if you’re starting out.”

“On-air types get the money, the credit and most of the publicity but a good producer is muchharder to find. You’re part assignment editor, writer, editor, shooter, reporter and all too often, baby sitter.”

Frank H. Shorr: Interviewed on July 27, 2009

Position: Lecturer, Boston University; Director, Sports Institute at BU

Born: 1948, Bay Shore, New York

Education: Boston University, B.S. in Business Administration, 1970; BU, Masters of Science, Broadcasting and Film, 1973

Career: Warner Cable, 1973-1980; WCVB-TV, Boston 1979-80; WNAC/WHDH Channel 7, Boston, 1980-2001

Personal: Married, 3 children, 30, 16 & 11; two dogs: Weezer and Rufus

Favorite restaurant (home): Giancarlo’s, Marblehead, Ma. “took my wife there on our first date…we still laugh about the strolling minstrels!”

Favorite restaurant (away): Chevy’s, Orlando “raised all my kids there and we love the flautas!”

Favorite hotel: Grand Cypress Hyatt, Orlando “great food, great pool, links style golf…a luxury in the middle of the theme parks.”

Excerpted from the course prospectus at The Sports Institute, 2009:

http://www.bu.edu/com/sports_institute/courses.html

Sports Journalism: Punch your own ticket. Write your way to The Show. Sports Journalism as a practical writing course covering the major formats of game stories, features, columns and player profiles. Learn reporting and interviewing skills, story structure and ways to put color in your copy. The course also offers a look at the job market and the freelance writing business.

Broadcast Sports Journalism: Train to be a Sports Anchor. During each class, we will produce a half-hour episode of “Sports Summer”, a program combining hard news, feature stories, commentary and live guests. We will format, write, edit and produce the show within the three-hour class time. Students will get hands on experience on the Anchor desk and in reporting sports stories from the field. Your resume tape starts here!

Multimedia Sports: Today’s audience wants more than can be delivered through the straight broadcast or print story. In order to stay competitive, today’s outlets are leaning heavily on young journalists with fresh ideas to get the rest of the story out. Learn how to take the time-honored techniques of good storytelling and new techniques in multimedia – video, audio, photos and text – to the web with tools like Final Cut Pro, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, WordPress and other content management systems. At the end of four weeks, you will have a state-of-the-art web presence that will impress and entice future employers.

Sports Seminar: A panel of working journalists will join students in a discussion of a topical sports issue. The panel will be interviewed by the Director of the Institute, followed by a Q and A period by students.

Seminars will cover: Sports in the Television Newsroom; Women in Sports; Agents and Jobs; Sports Journalism; Radio/Internet Sports

Q. Size up future opportunities for employment in sports media?

A. Future opportunities for employment in the sports media field lay on the local fronts. Community newspapers and small market television stations provide the only coverage of those areas,

While major markets concentrate on national sports news, no one but the local newspapers and local TV stations are covering high school and hometown college sports. Though they won’t pay on the same scale, the chances of working should be greater and if a journalist can bring multimedia skills to the table, he or she should be able to find employment.

Interesting enough, however, is that these jobs, long the starting spot for graduating students and first timers, are also being coveted by the people being laid off in larger markets. Their desire to stay in the field is causing more competition at the lower levels.

Q. If you were starting out today how would you prepare for and go after a career in sports media?

A. First and foremost, I’d make sure I was as technologically savvy as I could be. Knowing how to cover the story is only half the battle, presenting and marketing the story are just as important. Can you shoot your own video? Can you edit on your laptop? Do you have your own website? Are people following you on Twitter? A no answer to any of those questions can be disastrous if you’re starting out.

Q. Describe your program at Sports Institute at BU?

A. The Sports Institute is an education-based program combining four sports journalism courses regularly taught at Boston University. Packed into a month, the students get to enjoy Boston and take with them life skills and hopefully the tools for a successful career.

Give us four weeks, we’ll give you a lifetime!

Q. What sports media do you consume and why, and what do you avoid and why?

A. I still read the daily newspapers – old habits die hard – but ESPN.com keeps me up-to-date nationally. I love Boston Media Sports Watch to keep track of the local market. WEEI sports talk radio and Comcast SportsNet are good sources of opinion. NESN, for all its promise, still hasn’t figured out what it wants to be and its insistence on Red Sox, Bruins coverage all the time, is disheartening.

Q. Tell us about your career and your history with John Dennis (WEEI radio, Boston).

A. John and I started working together in 1980 when local television was coming into its own. We saw the birth of live coverage and spent a lot of hours figuring it all out. But it was also the most sustained time in Boston local sports history for non stop high caliber action. For 18 years we worked shoulder to shoulder through an amazing time. John was, and still is, the best interviewer in Boston and I always knew when he was covering a story, we’d have the best material on air. That’s all a producer can ask for.

Q. The good, bad, and ugly of sports talk radio?

A. I guess I expected more journalism from sports talk radio but perhaps that’s my own bias. As Glenn Ordway (WEEI) points out, it really is “narrowcasting”. It’s entertainment. There’s too much yelling from time to time but that’s what happens in a good sports argument, right? It’s an interesting debate.

Q. You were a producer – what makes a good producer?

A. On-air types get the money, the credit and most of the publicity but a good producer is muchharder to find. You’re part assignment editor, writer, editor, shooter, reporter and all too often, baby sitter.

A good producer is truly the person who has to act as intermediary between theforces of evil that stand in the way. While many in the newsroom have very specific jobs to perform, a good producer has to know how to do them all. It helps to be prepared to take the heat and like a good fight.

I’m reminded of a scene in the movie Broadcast News when Holly Hunter’s character, Jane Craig, is cornered by an Executive Producer. He says, “It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you’re the smartest person in the room.” And she says, “No. It’s awful.”

She was totally serious and I understood exactly how she felt. The end result is still the same, did the job get done, butit’s the producer who improves on the recipe, a pinch of this, a pinch of that – dessert is served.

Q. Your thoughts on ESPN’s size and influence over sports coverage?

A. ESPN has fulfilled everything it started out to be and I think right now they are trying to stay current. They are stretching and sometimes not always in the right direction. Their first two ombudsmen, for example, had virtually no television sports background – was that by design? It will be very interesting to see if Don Ohlmeyer sinks his teeth into them. Their penchant for only covering sports they have rights to raises the eyebrows. World Wide Leader, for sure, but not without faults.

(SMG thanks Frank H. Shorr for his cooperation)