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)

Michael Weinreb

An Interview with Michael Weinreb

An Interview with Michael Weinreb

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

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

Position: Freelance writer/author

Born: 1972, Bronxville, New York

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

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

Personal: Lives with girlfriend (Cheryl)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Reaction to the Bias piece?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(SMG thanks Michael Weinreb for his cooperation)

L. Jon Wertheim

 

A Interview with L. Jon Wertheim

L. Jon Wertheim: Interviewed on February 8, 2011

Position: Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated.

Born: 1970, Indianapolis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. So how did the collaboration work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Who do you read in sports media?

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

 

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

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

A. I guess he had the affect on I.

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

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

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

(SMG thanks L. Jon Wertheim for his cooperation)

Seth Wickersham — Part One

An Interview with Seth Wickersham — Part One

An Interview with Seth Wickersham — Part One

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

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

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

Seth Wickersham: Interviewed on January 4, 2008

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

Born: 1976, Boulder, Colorado

Education: University of Missouri, 2000, journalism

Career: ESPN the Magazine 2000 –

Personal: married (Alison Overholt)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And never does he mention that he misses them…

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

A. (pause)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Frustrations and difficulties of covering the NFL?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. What do you think about legalizing HGH?

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

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

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

Q. Will history view NFL writers as naïve?

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

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

Q. What condition qualifies for legal usage?

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

Q. How did you learn to report and write?

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

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

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

Q. Journalistic and writing influences?

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Non-mainstream media?

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

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

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

Q. How often do you write?

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

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

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

Q. Why couldn’t Missouri beat Oklahoma?

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

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

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

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

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

THAT’S JUST the thing: Few understand.

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

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

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

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

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

And if not, which path he’d take….

(SMG thanks Seth Wickersham for his cooperation)

Seth Wickersham – Part Deux

An Interview with Seth Wickersham – Part Deux

An Interview with Seth Wickersham – Part Deux

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

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


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

Seth Wickersham: Interviewed on February 7, 2010.

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

Born: 1976, Boulder, Colorado

Education: University of Missouri, 2000, journalism

Career: ESPN Magazine 2000 –

Personal: married (Alison Overholt)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A.

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

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

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

Q. Which sports songs make you cringe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke Winn

An Interview with Luke Winn

An Interview with Luke Winn

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

Luke Winn: Interviewed on August 28, 2008

Position: Senior Writer, SI.com

Born: 1980, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin

Education: Northwestern, 2002, Journalism

Career: SI.com 2002 –

Personal: N/A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(SMG thanks Luke Winn for his cooperation)

Michael Silverman

An Interview with Michael Silverman

An Interview with Michael Silverman

“You have to have repeated exposure to these guys so they know your face. Or in the case of an executive, repeated exposure to your phone messages. You need good people skills and sometimes you have to talk to them when you’re not looking for anything – get to know them as people – shoot the shit.

“Uggie Urbina – he was a scary dude. You couldn’t go near him. Now that he’s in prison in Venezuela (for murder) I can say it. I barely interviewed him. If I did I’ve repressed the whole experience. I didn’t enjoy him at all. He was a grunter.”

“When AP picks up stories it will say “as first reported by the Boston Herald”. Papers take great pride in that – it’s the way you keep score. Editors and higher-ups care about it…. It all comes down to the work the beat reporters do.”

Michael Silverman: Interviewed on January 23, 2008

Position: Red Sox beat reporter, Boston Herald

Born: 1962, Kansas City, Mo.

Education: Columbia, 1989, MJ; Michigan, 1984, English

Career: Harvard University Gazette 1985-88; New York Post 89; Boston Herald 1989 –

Personal: Married, three children

Favorite restaurant (home): JP Seafood Café, Jamaica Plain, Boston, “fresh sushi close to home”

Favorite restaurant (road): Bryant’s Barbeque, Kansas City

Favorite hotel: Harbor Beach Marriott Resort, Ft. Lauderdale

Michael Silverman, excerpted from the Boston Herald, October 18, 2007:

CLEVELAND – Three years ago, a gang of idiots clawed out of a 3- 0 ALCS pit and went on to win the whole thing.

Tonight, Josh Beckett will lead the 2007 Red Sox – comprised mostly of gentlemen with a couple of whack-jobs thrown in – onto a brand new battlefield. Down 3-1 to the Indians, they will find out what they are made of, having to win three straight games to stay alive.

Q. Who are the whack jobs?

A. Manny is a whack job. Papelbon qualified after his Irish jig dance. Pedroia can be interesting but he’s not a whack job. Tavarez is certifiable.

Q. Did you worry an editor would ax it?

A. Sure I did. But I guess it wasn’t offensive enough. It’s colorful. Idiot is on the verge too.

Q. But ‘idiot’ was a label they gave themselves.

A. True. Whack job was in a gray area. I took some literary license.

Q. Covering the Red Sox, who were your best interviews?

A. Mo Vaughn and Pedro (Martinez) were the top two. David Cone, for one year, was great. Bret Saberhagen. Mike Lowell. Gabe Kapler. David Ortiz.

They understood why we were there. As long as you didn’t catch them when they were trying to get on the field or do something, they didn’t mind sharing whatever the issue of the day was, or sharing nothing at all but being able to talk about non-baseball things. They all had a sense of humor and realized that the relationship between media and players does not have to be tense and adversarial.

Are you going to ask me who was the worst?

Q. Who was the worst?

A. Uggie Urbina – he was a scary dude. You couldn’t go near him. Now that he’s in prison in Venezuela (for murder) I can say it. I barely interviewed him. If I did I’ve repressed the whole experience. I didn’t enjoy him at all. He was a grunter.

Carl Everett had his moments where you understood after talking to him awhile that you could never communicate on the same level. He wasn’t an evil man – just different from most baseball players.

Q. What about Schilling?

A. I like him for the fact that he’s articulate and intelligent and always has opinions and isn’t afraid of voicing them. On the surface he should be every reporter’s dream to cover on a day-to-day basis. I have about zero relationship with him, pretty neutral, for whatever reason I’m not sure. But he’s an interesting guy and the source of a lot of stories in his four seasons here.

Q. Do you read his blog?

A. Sure. I wish more players kept blogs. I love the blog. It’s the source of stories. We’d have more interesting stories if players were more open about these things and whatever is going on in their lives. With Schilling sometimes it’s more than we care to know and sometimes it’s really interesting. He puts himself out there. That’s not a bad thing.

Q. As an organization how easy or difficult are the Sox to cover?

A. They’re certainly more enjoyable since the new ownership group came in. It was really difficult at the end of the John Harrington-led days. The environment was just miserable – there was a lot of distrust for the media up and down the organization – it was difficult to get information from the team. The media was the last priority of that administration and the fan base was taken for granted as well. When the new owners came it was liberating, almost like night and day. You didn’t have to walk on egg shells around the players and coaches and front office people. It made a huge difference in getting excited about your day.

Q. How do you cultivate sources?

A. It’s quantity and quality. You have to have repeated exposure to these guys so they know your face. Or in the case of an executive, repeated exposure to your phone messages. You need good people skills and sometimes you have to talk to them when you’re not looking for anything – get to know them as people – shoot the shit.

If there’s a slow moment at spring training talk to them about what they do in Fort Meyers. Some of the time you’re looking for something to write, but you don’t want them to think ‘why is he coming up to me – he hasn’t all year?’ You’ve got to schmooze some and sometimes you’ll be told something off the record. You have a choice to use it, but if you burn that bridge you’re sunk. That player will never trust you again and he’ll tell others – it can be a real mess. You have to be clear about what’s on and off the record.

Q. What’s hard about the beat?

A. Be prepared to sacrifice your personal life to a great extent. You work nights and weekends and summers in addition to a ton of time at home. You have to accept that. It’s a 12-month-a-year job with maybe January being the lightest month.

Q. What are the competitive pressures?

A. They’re real in a market like Boston and I assume New York and a couple of other towns. I love it because it makes the job edgier and more fun. No one is perfect but you take pride when your paper gets a scoop and your competitor doesn’t, and when they do you try harder next time. It just makes it more fun, and the readers are rewarded when the outlets competing to be first produce real news that’s accurate and important.

Q. Scoops you’re proud of?

A. When the Herald reported that Theo Epstein had not accepted the job to come back after the ’05 season, and we were also the first to report that he had left the job. The competition reported he was coming back – sort of a ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ – it was a good day for the Herald.

I had Damon coming to the Red Sox first, and some good one-on-ones with Pedro Martinez.

Q. How do you keep up with baseball news?

A. (groan)

I’ve been on the beat for 13 years. The first nine I spent a lot of time going to Spanish papers on the Internet. I’m not fluent, but sometimes the small Dominican papers would have scoops and I would follow up.

Then I went to individual sites, which seems so laborious and time-consuming now that we have feeders that update you instantaneously. There are some great fan sites like ‘Son of Sam Horn’. I go to ESPN, Fox, SI, CBS SportsLine. There are some great sites with contract numbers – Cot’s Baseball Contracts, mlb4u.com. For trade rumors there’s mlbtraderumors.com. Prosportsdaily.com contains news nuggets and a pretty complete list of trade rumors.

So it’s harder and harder to establish and maintain a scoop before everybody else has it – the lifespan of a scoop is shorter. The internal debate is whether to post it immediately or save it for the print edition. The print edition comes online at 12 or 1 a.m. at which point it’s hard for anybody to chase for the morning paper. But it’s rare that a scoop survives until morning. Your competitor can put it on their website as long as they credit it. We do that but first we verify it on our own.

Q. Is a scoop less valuable than it used to be?

A. When AP picks up stories they’ll say “as first reported by the Boston Herald”. Papers take great pride in that – it’s the way you keep score. Editors and higher-ups care about it. It gets repeated on the wires and local radio stations. Further out from where the scoop takes place they care less when it’s reported on ESPN or a national outlet that the Boston Herald is reporting this.

It all comes down to the work the beat reporters do. If some Boston columnist has an outlandish opinion it doesn’t really get picked up nationwide. But if we report that Tim Wakefield is going to be on the DL or has suffered an injury it will be reported nationally and credited to the Boston Herald.

Q. Are outlets honorable about crediting?

A. Some are – sometimes. Mostly, yes.

Q. Are beat reporters appreciated?

A. Depends how you define appreciation. Anyone in the business understands that the life of a beat reporter involves a lot of grunt work that just isn’t done by columnists. I think every columnist appreciates us – many were former beat reporters. Anyone who doesn’t is probably some sort of prima donna or windbag.

Q. Is there a skill to asking a good question?

A. Depends on the kind of story – feature or straight game. Try not to ask yes-no questions or you’ll get yes-no answers. Ask open-ended questions. And listen to the answers. Don’t go in with a preconceived list of questions and not be open to hearing something that is a better story than you thought you’d get. Be open to the unexpected.

Q. Which questions make you cringe?

A. I love it when someone calls Francona “coach”, as in “coach, can you explain this”. You know he’s just waiting to figure out first of all how to rip you to shreds or to bite his tongue that day. He has no patience for that. Sometimes people ask questions that you can’t go down the road with this manager. He won’t blast a player and he’ll always jump to their defense, so if someone asks a leading question to try to get him to rip a player and he has to dance around, I cringe. I know he’s not going to answer it and you wonder how he’ll turn it on the reporter.

I ask my share of stupid questions, too. Sometimes you ask someone how they feel after giving up five runs in the eighth inning, and they say, “how do you think I feel.” It’s never a good moment. We know the answer but sometimes we need the quote, even if the comments are rote and predictable.

Q. Does it annoy you if someone horns in on your interview?

A. It’s it pre-game in the clubhouse and I’m speaking to a player one-on-one in front of his locker and someone comes up and lingers over my shoulder I’m not shy about saying ‘I need a couple of minutes do you mind’. By the same token if I see a reporter one-on-one with a player I tell myself ‘forget it, I can’t go over there’. These days it’s harder and harder to get players to come to their lockers at all. After the game it’s a different story. Anybody involved in the story is fair game – we’re all on deadlines. You have to give people a little bit of time but eventually you have to ask a question of whoever made the important hit or important play.

Q. How did you vote on the new ‘bonus-clause’ rule of the Baseball Writers Association? (which disqualifies players for writers awards if their contract links cash incentives to an award)

A. I voted for it. Part of the catalyst was the incentive clause Schilling received from the Red Sox. I don’t blame Schilling for asking for it. It seemed to crystallize what the flaw is in our voting process. When I saw some of the ridiculous votes people made in the Cy Young vote this year it was easy to see a bad situation down the road where there could be an appearance of a conflict of interest. There actually could be a conflict between a reporter and a player he covers.

Q. Is it far-fetched to imagine a cash payment for a vote?

A. I can’t even imagine a player of that ilk existing and the same goes for baseball writers. But it was too easy for that to happen – the fact that I can’t imagine it means nothing – those types tend to find each other and make each other happy. I understand why the players’ union hates the new rule but I’m sure they can be creative and come up with some other incentive. I believe they’ve held an emergency summit since we voted for it. It’s now been tabled until the writers’ executive committee meets with the union. They want us to reconsider

Q. Why does the union care?

A. Incentive clauses were hooked to the writers’ awards. It was a way for agents to get more money for their clients. The teams can’t give incentive clauses – they’re illegal. It puts the player above the team. It drives players to achieve individual goals and puts pressure on the managers for playing time. Appearance clauses are allowed, but nothing directly pegged to wins or offense.

Q. Does the Herald allow you to vote on awards?

A. We’re allowed. One reason the writers association went down this road is more papers are not allowing their writers to vote. It feared this would become a sweeping trend and nobody would be left to vote on awards. The (NY) Times is the most prominent paper that doesn’t allow its writers to vote. One or two others have crept into it.

I don’t have any problem with it. Personally I haven’t voted for an award – it’s the way they pass out ballots in Boston.

Q. Does award voting affect relationships with players?

A. I hope not. It wouldn’t with me. I like to believe I could just vote for who deserves it and put aside all personal and professional relationships.

Michael Silverman, excerpted from the Boston Herald, November 1, 2005:

Once Theo Epstein finally decided that his dream job was anything but, the Red Sox were left wondering if this was all just a nightmare.

Epstein walked away from his general manager’s post yesterday, dealing a stunning blow to the heart and soul of an organization that had reached the ultimate pinnacle with a world title barely more than a year ago. That honeymoon period ended abruptly with Epstein’s decision to decline the club’s three-year contract extension offer worth $1.5 million a year.

Epstein’s decision seemingly came out of the blue, as many considered his return before the midnight deadline to be a done deal.

As it turned out, Epstein’s dismay with his job and his work environment overrode all other concerns.

The decision by Epstein was an agonizing one. The Brookline native weighed the job he always coveted against the intra- organizational politics, power struggles and lack of privacy issues that increasingly were becoming a burden to him.

The negotiations began late in the summer and intensified after the Red Sox were eliminated from the playoffs. At first, money and length of contract were central issues for Epstein, who had lobbied hard for an annual salary of more than $1 million a year. A private and almost shy person to begin with, Epstein had handled himself well in the spotlight but did not enjoy the sometimes oppressive media demands that came with the job and the intrusions in his personal life away from the ballpark.

Still, by Saturday evening, he had come close to agreeing to a deal, although he still had not officially accepted it. On Sunday, he began having serious misgivings about staying on. A key factor that ultimately soured Epstein on the job, according to sources close to the situation, was a column in Sunday’s Boston Globe which revealed too much inside information about the relationship between Epstein and his mentor, Larry Lucchino, and slanted the coverage in the team president’s favor. Epstein, according to these sources, had several reasons to believe Lucchino was a primary source behind the column and came to the realization that if this information was leaked hours before he was going to agree to a long-term deal, excessive bad faith existed between the two.

Epstein had not made up his mind about accepting the job before going to bed Sunday night despite a report in the Globe citing “multiple major league sources” that said the Red Sox and the GM had agreed to a contract extension. The Globe’s parent company, the New York Times, holds a 17 percent ownership stake in the Red Sox.

(SMG thanks Michael Silverman for his cooperation)

Carol Slezak

An Interview with Carol Slezak

An Interview with Carol Slezak

“With regard to gender-related sports issues, I wish the so-called top columnists in the industry – and most of them are male — would have the courage, or interest, or whatever it takes, to weigh in. I wish other female columnists would too. At times I feel like a lone voice. While I hear from other writers privately – on occasion – saying ‘Way to go’, it seems to me that they don’t go public with their thoughts often enough.”

Carol Slezak: Interviewed on May 5, 2008

Position: Sports Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times

Born: Detroit

Education: University of Michigan, BA, economics; University of Richmond Law School, JD.

Career: Chicago Sun-Times 1996 –

Personal:

Favorite restaurant (home):

Favorite restaurant (road):

Favorite hotel:

Carol Slezak, from the Chicago Sun-Times, September 25, 2007:

I don’t know Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy or Daily Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson. But after watching Gundy’s rant on YouTube and reading the Carlson column that inspired his rage, I think they’ve combined to give us a couple things to think about.

No. 1: Should the media treat Division I college players like pros?

No. 2: Would Gundy have berated a male writer the way he berated Carlson?

In case you haven’t watched the video yet, Gundy went off after his team’s 49-45 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday. His anger stemmed from a Carlson column in which she suggested that OSU junior quarterback Bobby Reid had been demoted not because he lacked talent, but because he lacked heart and guts. Those weren’t Carlson’s exact words, but that was the gist of her piece.

”Three-fourths of this is inaccurate,” Gundy yelled, holding up Carlson’s column. ”It’s fiction. And this article embarrasses me to be involved in athletics.”

Gundy, 40, berated the media, asking ”Where are we at in society today?” That’s a point worth discussing. But few are talking about that now, because Gundy got personal, directing most of his long tirade at Carlson.

”This article had to have been written by a person that doesn’t have a child,” Gundy yelled at her. ”… If you have a child someday, you’ll understand how it feels but you obviously don’t have a child. I do. If your child goes down the street and somebody makes fun of him because he drops a pass in a pickup game or says he’s fat and he comes home crying to his mommy, you’ll understand.”

Like I said, I don’t know Gundy. But his reaction seemed motivated by something deeper than Carlson’s story. Watch the video yourself, and see what you think. I remember being called out during a press conference by a college basketball coach who was angry about something I had written. But that coach didn’t go berserk. He was sarcastic, he made his point, and he moved on. Gundy couldn’t do that.

I can’t imagine Gundy going off on a man the way he did on Carlson. I wonder how he even knew whether Carlson has kids. Was he asking people about her personal life? Did the topic come up during a previous press conference?

Carlson: Coach Gundy, why’d you decide to go for it on fourth-and-two?

Gundy: Are you childless?

I can’t imagine Gundy screaming during a press conference about a male writer’s lack of offspring. I can’t imagine him substituting ”daddy” for ”mommy” in his rant. I also wonder, as one of the few — or perhaps only — women in that room, if Carlson didn’t make for an easy target in Gundy’s mind. Watching the video, I sensed a subcurrent that gave me an uneasy feeling. As if what Gundy was really thinking was “How dare that bitch criticize one of my players. She shouldn’t be writing about football. She should be home making babies.”…

Make no mistake, Carlson was tough on Reid. For instance, to illustrate her belief that he’s a coddled player, she wrote about seeing Reid’s mom feed him chicken out of a boxed meal as he stood near the team’s chartered buses after a recent loss. She also inferred that he wouldn’t play through minor injuries, and indicated that he has an unusually acute case of game-day nerves. That’s a lot to pile on a college kid.

Or is it? I’ve read many harsher pieces about college athletes. Division I athletes may not technically be professionals, but they’re part of a pro-style product that the colleges themselves created. They are given free tuition and room and board. They’re typically subjected to less rigorous academic standards than their peers. Many are considered celebrities on campus and in their communities. (Certainly most quarterbacks are.) Isn’t it to be expected that intensified scrutiny will follow? Reid knew what he was getting into when he decided to play in the Big 12. He’s 21 years old, no longer a kid. And when a Big 12 quarterback loses his job, it’s news. Everyone is going to speculate as to the reasons why. Maybe Carlson hit too close to home?

Gundy has been roundly criticized by the press, in part because media members usually stand up for each other, and in part because he appeared unprofessional (and a bit demented) during his rant. When they’re not on the sidelines throwing clipboards, we expect college coaches to comport themselves in a distinguished manner. Many have objected to the fact that by choosing to go off on Carlson, Gundy was taking away from his team’s win. Gundy acknowledged that point during Monday’s weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference, but didn’t apologize for Saturday’s rant.

”I wish I would’ve said more,” he said.

And I wish he had said less, and said it differently.

Q. Reaction to your Gundy-Carlson column?

A. It was pretty typical of any hot button issue. About 70 percent of the people I heard from vehemently disagreed with me, and of course some of them expressed the sentiment that women don’t belong in sports – not in those words – use your imagination. But a healthy 30 percent or so of those who commented either agreed with me or said they appreciated reading an “opposing” viewpoint.

Q. If you had been the target of Mike Gundy’s rant, how would you have reacted? Have you experienced anything similar?

A. I think I would have been fighting back laughter while simultaneously wondering if I should be calling 9-1-1.

I’ve never experienced such a ferocious attack, but Gene Keady once called me out by name during a postgame interview after an NCAA tournament game, because he was mad about something I had written. He didn’t know me. After the interview I sought him out and introduced myself, and all was well.

Q. Bobby Reid and his mother told ESPN’s Tom Friend that they believe Gundy’s rant was a fake. Friend inferred that the information in Jenni Carlson’s column came from Gundy or the coaching staff. If that’s true, in hindsight, what are your reflections on the whole episode, and on what you wrote?

A. I am as certain as one can be that the episode was not fake. My opinion has not changed a bit.

Q. How does gender inform your writing voice and sensibility?

A. I don’t know…I am who I am and certainly my gender is part of the package. Yet I know women who think/feel differently than me on many issues, and men who think/feel similarly.

With regard to gender-related sports issues, I wish the so-called top columnists in the industry – and most of them are male — would have the courage, or interest, or whatever it takes, to weigh in. I wish other female columnists would too. At times I feel like a lone voice. While I hear from other writers privately – on occasion – saying ‘Way to go’, it seems to me that they don’t go public with their thoughts often enough.

Q. What would you have advised Danica Patrick about modeling for FHM or SI?

A. Don’t do it. It reflects poorly on her and women in general, in my opinion.

Q. Why a law degree?

A. I wanted to save the world…

Q. Does training in law help a sports columnist?

A. Not specifically. But, as anyone who endured law school and the bar exam can attest, it toughens you up, sharpens your analytical skills and, hopefully, gives you a broader and deeper perspective on life, including sports issues.

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

A. The Chicago Sun-Times, of course. The New York Times. The Chicago Tribune. ESPN. And then anything that catches my eye.

Q. You recently wrote, “the Masters has long been a reminder that golf is an elitist sport.” Is there a strain of populism in your writing, and if so, where does it come from?

A. I think I’ll leave that for others to decide. But I’m not a big fan of elitism, in any form.

Q. Lastly, is there a feminist angle to the Cubs’ 100 years of futility?

A. That would be a good idea for a book: ‘If a Woman Owned the Cubs. Hmmm…….

Carol Slezak, excerpted from the Chicago Sun-Times, April 22, 2008:

It was great to see Danica Patrick finally posing next to a winner’s trophy, looking strong and confident in her racing suit. It sure beats seeing her modeling a barely there leather ensemble in FHM or a barely there bikini in Sports Illustrated.

Until Sunday, Patrick was a poseur. But thanks to her historic victory in the Japan Indy 300, she has become the real deal. Can she race and win? You bet she can.

Some even are comparing her win, the first by a woman in a major auto racing event, to Billie Jean King’s victory over Bobby Riggs in 1973. Let’s not get carried away. King always will be the queen of symbolic victories. She sparked a revolution. Her victory over Riggs made Patrick’s career possible.

Patrick’s win sent this message: Give a good female racer a decent car, and she can win. But we knew that already. Didn’t we?…

…I suppose she had to win a race to convince a handful of disbelieving rube racing fans that she belonged in the IRL. Maybe she even needed to convince herself she belonged. Maybe there were times when she thought about quitting racing and becoming a full-time pinup girl.

I’m glad she hung in there because it’s great to celebrate another female first. Besides, the last thing we need is another pinup girl.

(SMG thanks Carol Slezak for her cooperation)

Susan Slusser

An Interview with Susan Slusser

An Interview with Susan Slusser

“I talk to younger colleagues who aren’t dating – they’re saying it’s a problem meeting people who understand the schedule thing and working nights and weekends.”

“I know an A’s radio guy who has put a limit on himself for checking news – he said he was just getting overwhelmed. There’s some sense to that. You can drive yourself nuts reading and following up. You have to have some life outside of it at some point.”

“There are a lot of baseball lifers – like the Cleveland guys and Tracy Ringolsby (Rocky Mountain News) – and there are people who do it two or three years and say “Forget it”. It takes a certain kind of person to do it a long time…I’m pretty sure I’m a lifer. I’m not sure what else I would do.”

Susan Slusser: Interviewed on December 11, 2006

Position: Oakland A’s beat reporter, San Francisco Chronicle

Born: 1965, Monterrey, Calif. (hometown)

Education: Stanford, 1988, History, English

Career: Sacramento Bee, 1988-94; Orlando Sentinel, 94-95, Dallas Morning News 95-96, SF Chronicle 96 –

Personal: married, (to Dan Brown, San Jose Mercury News)

Favorite Restaurant (home): The Slanted Door, SF (Asian cuisine) “it’s gone down hill but you are guaranteed to get one thing as good as anything you have ever eaten”

Favorite Restaurant (road): Bread Winners Café and Bakery, Dallas “best brunch place in the world”

Favorite Hotel: Marriott Renaissance Center, Detroit “completely different than other hotels we stay at – futuristic”

“Replay of an End-Zone Love Catch”, by Daniel Brown, San Jose Mercury News, April 27, 2005:

On Sept. 8, 1990, quarterback Jeff Bridewell threw for 402 yards, UC-Davis beat Santa Clara 31-19 and I made the greatest catch in the history of Buck Shaw Stadium. It happened near the corner of the end zone in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, while waiting to conduct postgame interviews. That was when I said the first words to the woman who would become my wife.

Granted, those words were, “Bridewell had a good game,” and granted, her response was to turn and walk away, but the moment remains nonetheless historic. It was the first play of what would turn out to be an all-time upset: a girl like that with a guy like me. The Miracle on Eyes.

Susan Slusser was new to the UC-Davis beat, a luminous, rising young star for the Sacramento Bee. I was a UCD student working for the campus paper and had all the wisdom of an empty notebook. Without proper consideration for our professional gap, I attempted chitchat. The woman who would become my wife looked at me half-startled, as if I had just offered to set myself on fire, and walked away. Love at first slight!

It got better. In the weeks that followed, against St. Mary’s, Chico State and Humboldt State, the Aggies won big, and so did I. By San Francisco State, we were both close to clinching. By Hayward State, it was all wrapped up. Years later, when it was time to propose, I figured that the ideal plan was to return to what was apparently the most romantic place on earth. Getting her back to the end zone at Buck Shaw Stadium was tricky, since A. the football team disappeared after 1992 and B. there was no reason to stand in an empty field at sunset. But thanks to a combination of lies and misdirection, the foundation of any good marriage, I persuaded her to walk to the spot that used to be the end zone at Buck Shaw Stadium.

I got down on one knee, as if downing a kickoff. “Will you marry me?” She looked half-startled again. Only this time, she didn’t walk away. “Well, will you?” “Of course.” It remains the best interview I’ve ever done.

Q. Is your husband’s account of your first meeting accurate?

A. Yes. I totally big-leagued him.

Q. How many two-sportswriter couples are there?

A. There’s got to be quite a few – there’s Jen Floyd and Mac Engel (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram). A few years ago there were four couples at the Chronicle – Nancy Gay (SF Chronicle) and Mike Martinez (San Jose Mercury News) – he’s in travel now. Michelle Smith (SF Chronicle) and Jerry McDonald (Oakland Tribune). Brian Murphy (KNBR radio) and Candace Putnam Murphy (Oakland Tribune). Janie McCauley and Josh Dubow are at AP. I’m sure tons of others are just slipping my mind.

Q. Does it help a marriage?

A. Absolutely. I talk to younger colleagues who aren’t dating – they’re saying it’s a problem meeting people who understand the schedule thing and working nights and weekends. Then there’s all the travel – the travel seems to wear on people who don’t accept it as part of the job. So, yes, it helps.

Q. How long have you been married?

A. Seven years, but we’ve been together for 16 years.

Q. Do you talk shop with your husband?

A. We do, but we work at different papers in the same area, so it can be difficult – I wouldn’t want to work at the same paper. I have to be careful if I’m working on something I wouldn’t want the Mercury News to know about. It can be tricky if something is going on where we’re both involved – although there haven’t been too many instances where we covered the same thing. Once he called me from the office and I said, “Stay there” – I gave him a heads up something was coming down the pipeline – I didn’t want us both putting out calls from the same phone.

It gets strange. An assistant GM called me and said “You husband is leaving calls on my office phone – can’t you give him my cell phone?” I said no. Dan is the national football writer and national baseball writer – they’re a little football heavy at the Merc-News – 70-30 or 60-40 – so he’s not around baseball as much. But he does do a weekly baseball column.

Q. How many women are on the baseball beat?

A. Kathleen O’Brien (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram) covers the Rangers. A couple more if you throw in mlb.com.

Q. Why so few?

A. In terms of travel and schedule baseball is probably the most rigorous job in sports. It’s tough to do it with a family. We don’t have kids but I don’t know how male writers with kids do it – I’d be crazy. Other sports have a saner schedule. Football has more women – maybe they’re smart. But I really like the baseball schedule and travel.

Q. Does the culture of baseball have anything to do with it?

A. I don’t think so. I haven’t found it unwelcoming in terms of gender – I’m sure that’s changed in the last 30 years. A lot of sportswriters consider baseball to be more difficult from a media standpoint – baseball players have a reputation of being tough to deal with. But I’ve been lucky with the teams I’ve covered – I’ve been in some good clubhouses. I hear horror stories about the Raiders and 49ers – they’re difficult in terms of media access and personalities.

It’s probably the schedule more than anything. I don’t know if this sounds sexist, but I think more women are interested in football than baseball. The women writers I’m friendly with are more interested in football.

Q. Why?

A. I don’t know – I really don’t. Obviously I’m not.

Q. Did your interest in baseball precede your job?

A. Yes. I’ve been a massive fan from the age of five or six. We lived in Alameda (Ca.) near the Coliseum after we moved back from Guam – I was the only child in a military family. On Guam the Super Bowl was the only thing they made a big deal about. When the A’s got in their first World Series in ’72 my Dad sat me down and explained it to me and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. I’ve continued liking baseball since then.

Q. Is baseball a good writing sport?

A. It is and it isn’t. Just the sheer numbers of stories – the sheer output – makes it impossible for the quality to be top-notch every day. I knew this year was busy but I didn’t know how busy until I did a byline count – it came to 427 or 428 – which is just ridiculous. As a sport there are so many different things going on and so many personalities – there’s always something great to write about. If your stories aren’t primo every day it’s not a horrible thing. Every baseball game lends itself to a great story if you have the time – which we don’t – so that’s frustrating. The ironic thing is that as technology gets better and better our deadlines get earlier – my first one is 9:15 (p.m.) on the west coast. Obviously they don’t get a completed game story for that edition. I’ll send them running – I always send them 18 inches of something.

Q. Do you enjoy the time cushion when you’re in the east?

A. It’s beautiful. I feel sorry for the eastern writers. It can work in reverse too – I wasn’t at the recent winter meetings in Florida – but our writers have so much extra time they can keep filing until 3 a.m. They’re up until 4 a.m. and then they have to be back in the lobby first thing in the morning.

Q. Does it bother you to miss the winter meetings?

A. No – we sent our national writer and Giants writer because of the Bonds crap. I covered it from here and did all of the Piazza stuff by phone. It’s not a fun event to cover due to the sheer amount of hours standing in a lobby – you’re always wondering who’s that agent over there – and who is Scott Boras talking to – and who is my competitor talking to. There are bad rumors flying around, and the G.M.s tend to be on the surly side because they’re getting hammered from all directions. There’s a lot of coffee and paranoia – it’s not fun. I was happy to let John Shea have the bulk of that although he’s making noises about me going next year.

Q. After Ken Macha was fired as A’s manager in October you had the only quotes from several players – Mark Kotsay, Jason Kendall and Barry Zito – critical of Macha. How did you manage that?

A. Without betraying a confidence, I had been hearing things for some time – I was aware that something was coming down. Obviously nobody will say things on the record during the season especially with the team heading for the post-season. I was certain a move would be made when the season ended – it seemed almost unavoidable given the state of the clubhouse. Certainly they (Kotsay, Kendall and Zito) weren’t the only ones saying those things.

Q. Did any other outlets have those comments?

A. Not that I’m aware of.

Q. Is that a feather in your cap?

A. I guess. Maybe it was a matter of timing – I had been willing to wait for a certain amount of time and I would hope there was some trust built up. This was the ninth year I’ve covered the team.

Q. Sounds like a balancing act.

A. Especially when you’re on a beat. Columnists can come in and maybe take a chance – I won’t say betray a confidence – but he can write something his source wouldn’t be thrilled with at the time because he might not be back for awhile. On a daily beat you have to be careful – if somebody tells you something off the record you don’t want to burn them from a personal standpoint. You have to be persuasive and you have to wait for the time to be right to say something controversial or against the grain.

Q. How do you maintain a civil relationship with the people you cover?

A. You don’t. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had very good clubhouses to work with great personalities. That said, you’re going to write something, if you’re honest and objective, that ticks somebody off. I have a player still not talking to me for a story I did last year. He insists he was upset at the headline, and he realizes I didn’t write the headline, but he’s still not talking to me. Things happen. Not everybody is going to like you. The team doctor is irate at me for a story I did on Bobby Crosby being unhappy with his medical care. What can you do?

Q. Are there certain people you can’t afford to alienate?

A. You can’t look at it that way and do your job. If somebody looked at my job they’d say you have to stay on (GM) Billy Beane’s good side. That’s true, but at times I haven’t been. Fortunately, he understands our job. When he’s been mad at me or our columnists he says what’s on his mind and gets over it, which is great.

Q. Your take on mlb.com?

A. It seems to depend on the city – it’s uneven. It’s got some really great people like T.R. Sullivan in Dallas – he’s a good friend but I also respect the job he does as a reporter. Then there are some relatively inexperienced people in other places. I’m not sure mlb.com knows what it is at all times. I’m not 100 percent sure how to classify it. It does some things very well and provides fans a service.

Q. Is MLB really reporting on itself?

A. That’s what gives me pause about it. It’s not strictly news – it’s got a p.r. element to it. They are the league and they are covering themselves. I had this discussion with the mlb.com A’s reporter, who is a friend and someone I respect. He claims that the baseball writers don’t respect mlb.com writers, but I think it’s probably a case-by-case basis, as it would be for any newspaper writer. As I told him, “Your paychecks are signed by Bud Selig and that’s a little problematic”.

Q. Does mlb.com have an advantage on breaking news?

A. I hope not. I hope the people getting the breaks are the best reporters on the beat, or the hardest-working reporters. People will always wonder about them but I’ve never had that feeling on my beat.

Q. How do you stay informed?

A. I read a massive array of stuff – there are so many links you can link. Buster Olney (espn.com) is a must read and I try to watch Baseball Tonight and to a lesser extent SportsCenter. I read the other beat writers – not every one every day – but I really try to stay up on my division. I definitely check the headlines around the league. I’m not sure everybody does this but I check the fan sites occasionally to get a perspective on what the fans are talking about. I can get so caught up in the day to day stuff that I may miss something. I’ll look at Athletics Nation and some other good ones. The problem I have is that the good ones get too popular and then there are so many voices the level of discourse dips a little. Rabid fans tend to be very good at picking up on news, but there are a lot of bad rumors, too.

Q. Have the fan sites changed baseball writing?

A. Maybe the reporting a little bit. They can be rumor mills. When I was in Orlando people were really starting to pick up on sports on the Internet – the Magic were the only game in town and I spent a lot of time chasing Internet rumors. Everybody sees everything at once.

It’s a 24-hour job now. Ron Bergman, who covered baseball for the Oakland Tribune and Merc-News in the early 70s, laughs at how much harder our job is today. It’s a 24-365 job. When he worked, off-seasons were completely off – he wasn’t spending all day checking to see what everybody across the country had written. I know an A’s radio guy who has put a limit on himself for checking news – he said he was just getting overwhelmed. There’s some sense to that. You can drive yourself nuts reading and following up. You have to have some life outside of it at some point.

Q. How do you get away from it?

A. (laughing) I don’t know. That’s a very good question. I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask. I probably do obsess about work. I’ve got my husband and my friends outside of work – I enjoy traveling to see my friends – and I read (non-sports fiction) and watch movies. I’m not totally crazy but I probably should cut back on my amount of work.

Q. Is burnout a concern?

A. I don’t know – it seems to go in extremes. There are a lot of baseball lifers – like the Cleveland guys and Tracy Ringolsby (Rocky Mountain News) – and there are people who do it two or three years and say “Forget it”. It takes a certain kind of person to do it a long time. I like all the lifers – I guess I now consider myself one. I’m pretty sure I’m a lifer. I’m not sure what else I would do.

Q. Sounds like you really like your job.

A. I do. But talk to me in August in Kansas City. I might sound differently.

(SMG thanks Susan Slusser for her cooperation)

Why did kotsay, kendall and zito open up to the chronicle about macha?

But Thomas opened up to the Oakland tribune:

Why did ken macha open up to the chronicle about his firing?

SPORTS

DISCONNECTED / GM again cuts ties with Macha

Susan Slusser

Chronicle Staff Writer

2248 words

17 October 2006

The San Francisco Chronicle

FINAL

E.1

English

© 2006 Hearst Communications Inc., Hearst Newspapers Division. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.

Two days after the A’s were eliminated from the postseason, Ken Macha was fired as the team’s manager, because of what general manager Billy Beane described as “a disconnect on several levels.”

Though Beane was careful not to spell out that disconnect, emphasizing during a news conference Monday that he alone was responsible for Macha’s ouster, the primary reason the team parted ways with a man with the second-highest winning percentage in Oakland history was that a growing number of players had issues with Macha.

“There were things that transpired over the course of the year that the players were unhappy about,” A’s center fielder Mark Kotsay said. “There’s no question there were things throughout the year, but the fact of the matter is that that by the end of the year, the players didn’t have the same feeling about the manager as they did at the start of the year — and that was at a point you’d think everybody would be happy, with a six-game lead. … I believe there was friction.”

Third baseman Eric Chavez, the longest-tenured member of the team, said several times in a phone interview Monday evening that he likes Macha and got along with him well personally, but Chavez had seen enough happening around him to realize there were problems.

“The whole thing was a weird situation for me because ever since he came here, we had a pretty good relationship, but over the last couple years, I could see things unfold, and I kept hearing things,” Chavez said. “He’s always been very open and communicative with me, and with some other players, that wasn’t true. I heard some things that were kind of disturbing. I think there are going to be a lot of guys who are happy about this.”

Many of the players thought that the tone set by Macha was gloomy, even when the club was playing well.

“The atmosphere wasn’t positive, for some reason,” Chavez said. “That was hard for us to deal with — here we are, winning the division, we’re banged up but we’re still doing what we should be doing, and every time he spoke to us, he’d say how much he appreciated the effort, but then you’d read things where he was always smashing people. … This negative cloud was just eating at everybody.”

Some of the players had the impression that Macha was miserable in his job. Starter Barry Zito, who is a big believer in the power of positive thinking, said that Macha dwelled too much on what might go wrong and that that was detrimental.

“The fact is, when you have someone leading people, you want them to be a visionary, to forge ahead and be on the front lines,” Zito said. “We felt like we were on the front lines, and he might have been with us, but he didn’t have the same conviction or faith. I think it was a fear of failure. He was a little more focused on the pessimistic stuff than on success.”

Zito was among those who felt as if Macha had not done enough to back him sometimes, especially in his final start against Anaheim in 2004, when he left after seven innings and 115 pitches. The A’s lost the lead after Zito departed, and Macha told reporters afterward that Zito had taken himself out of the game.

“I felt like he didn’t protect me,” Zito said. “I know a lot of managers do — (White Sox first baseman) Paul Konerko told me that Ozzie Guillen would take a bullet for his players. I was upset but Macha was fighting his own battle and he probably couldn’t process that kind of pressure, so, OK, I’ll wear it.”

The protection issue arose numerous times Monday.

“I know that the one thing any player wants from his manager is to be protected,” catcher Jason Kendall said. “If there’s a bang- bang play at first, even if you’re out, if you’re arguing, you want someone there behind you. If you argue a pitch, even if you’re wrong, you want someone joining in. And I’m not sure Macha did that.”

Macha’s seeming impatience with injuries also upset players. Kotsay, whose availability was uncertain at times because of a bad back, was furious when Macha said it was “puzzling” that Kotsay couldn’t play in a road game against Tampa Bay when the team had been off the day before. Two days earlier, Kotsay had described himself as having to use duct-tape simply to drag himself onto the field.

“When I got injured, I felt disrespected,” Kotsay said. “The ‘puzzling’ comment really threw me. My manager didn’t have my back, and every manager’s first business is to protect his players. That totally lost my trust in that relationship, between us as player and manager.”

Now, the A’s would like to have Beane’s back, worried that he’ll get criticized for firing a manager who just took the team to the American League Championship Series.

“I don’t want Billy to take heat for this because this is what needed to happen,” Kendall said. “If Billy is comfortable with it, we’re behind Billy. Maybe Billy saw the same thing the players saw. If Billy gets blasted in the media, it’s ridiculous. Billy’s going to get a lashing, and he shouldn’t.”

“I heard Steve Phillips on ESPN saying, ‘I don’t understand this move because those guys were playing (well) for Macha,’ ” Kotsay said. “Well, we didn’t play for him. This collective group wanted to win together, we felt we have a chance to win together, and we provided the leadership. The core guys who went out and played every day were the leaders of the team and carried us through the uncertainty. If there were problems, they were dealt with among the 25 guys.”

There were concerns from a strictly managerial standpoint, too.

“Everyone thought it was weird Kotsay didn’t hit against left- handers the last two months of the season, he’s so great defensively,” starter Dan Haren said. “And it was unfair to sit him two months against lefties and then all of a sudden throw him in there in the playoffs against tough lefties like (Johan) Santana and Kenny Rogers. I don’t think Macha handled that correctly.

“Then there were issues with the bullpen, guys being possibly overused, a lot of different issues.”

Haren noted that it probably was stressful managing under Beane, and he said, like Chavez, that he’d had a decent relationship with Macha. And when Macha was re-hired last fall, many of the players were supportive of the move.

“Deep down inside, I think he cared about the players, he just didn’t have a good way of communicating,” Chavez said. “He was always asking me about guys, he wanted to know if they were OK, but I was always the one he talked to in his office and I was probably the one who least needed to be in there.”

Macha will be paid the remaining $2.025 million remaining on his contract. The A’s will interview two internal candidates, third- base coach Ron Washington (who will interview for the Rangers’ managerial job today) and bench coach Bob Geren, for the managerial spot. Others on Beane’s list last year when Macha briefly left the team during a contract stalemate were former Phillies manager Larry Bowa, former Texas pitching coach Orel Hershiser and Colorado coach Jamie Quirk. A strong possibility for an interview this time: Angels pitching coach Bud Black. —————————————— —————

An Interview with Michael David Smith

An Interview with Michael David Smith

An Interview with Michael David Smith

“I do believe I could write about any sport in a pinch. During the Olympics I wrote about gymnastics, table tennis, diving and a number of other sports that I don’t follow outside the Olympics, and I think I did good work. Writing about sports isn’t like writing about economics or medicine, fields where I think the writer needs a lot of specialized knowledge. I think a good writer can write well about a sport without being an expert in it.”

“I’m really proud of all of my Vick posts as a body of work, and I’m especially proud to have worked with Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk during the Vick case, because Mike set the gold standard in Vick coverage.”

Michael David Smith: Interviewed on September 18, 2008

Position: Lead blogger, FanHouse.com; Writer, ProFootballTalk.com; Editor in chief, CollegeFootballTalk.com; NFL columnist, New York Sun

Born: 1976, Detroit

Education: University of Illinois, 1999, speech communication

Career: English teacher, Compton High School, 1999-2000; Web site producer, Los Angeles Daily News/Long Beach Press Telegram, 2000-2001; Long Beach Gazette Newspapers, 2001-2003; Communications Assistant, Joyce Foundation, 2004-2006; Sportswriter, 2007-present

Personal: Married to Sarah Smith since 2000

Favorite restaurant (home): Hong Kong Chef, Chicago “Simple and easy, you call them up, order your sesame chicken and your crab Rangoon and your egg rolls, and you know what you’re getting when you go pick it up 10 minutes later”

Favorite restaurant (away): Battista’s Hole in the Wall, Las Vegas “My wife and I got married in Vegas and we’ve gone back about once a year, and we always try to make it to Battista’s, an old-school Italian restaurant from the days when Vegas didn’t advertise itself as a family place”

Favorite hotel: TheHotelMandalay Bay, Las Vegas “We stay at different places every time we go to Vegas, and so far I’d have to say TheHotel is the top place we’ve been”

Posted by Michael David Smith on FanHouse.com, Sept. 18, 2008, 1:27 PM:

Boxer Oscar Diaz is awake and breathing on his own
, two months after suffering life-threatening brain injuries in a bout with Delvin Rodriguez.

Diaz was in critical condition
but has now been updated to stable, and his doctors and family are optimistic he will continue to improve.

“It’s very exciting to see Oscar open his eyes. He’s a fighter and I believe he will get better,” his mother, Theresa Diaz, said in a statement. Diaz’s family and doctor will provide more information about his condition today.

The Diaz-Rodriguez fight was shown live on ESPN2. Rodriguez had unleashed a fury of punches on Diaz, and before the start of the 11th round, Diaz began to look unstable and then fell to the ground in his corner. He was rushed to San Antonio University Hospital and has been there since.

Reached by ESPN.com, Rodriguez said, “It’s very good news to me…. I’ve been waiting for his moment for a long time. It’s been difficult. I kept thinking about him and how his family was doing. I’ve been worried.”

Q. Was SI?s Richard Dietsch accurate in describing you as “an evenhanded and smart read”? What was the impact of being named SI?s Mainstream Blogger of the Year for 2007?

A. I’d like to think that was an accurate description of my writing. I’d say the big impact was that the recognition led to a couple of job offers, even though they were offers I turned down. It was nice to know I had options, even though I was happy with what what I was doing – and still am, 10 months later.

Q. The mugshot that runs next to your blog – are you grinning because blogging is fun? Or because you’ve got the job all your friends envy?

A. I took that picture of myself with my digital camera when FanHouse got redesigned and my old picture got lost somewhere in the series of tubes, and I can’t honestly say I gave any thought to the look on my face. But I will say that yes, blogging is fun, and yes, people often tell me that they envy my job.

Q. What are the various outlets you write for and what do you contribute to each? Do you do primary reporting?

A. Yes, I do primary reporting. I cover events live and I interview people, but for the most part my job entails sitting at home, with my laptop and my TV, and just writing whatever I’m thinking about the world of sports. I try to get out of the house every now and then, but I disagree with those who think that writers need access.

Q. Which sports are you most comfortable writing?? Which are the best writing sports? Could you write on any sport in a pinch?

A. Football is, always has been and – I think – always will be my favorite sport, and I know much more about football than I do about other sports. In the last year or so, however, mixed martial arts has become a close second. Those are definitely my two favorite sports to watch and my two favorite to write about.

I do believe I could write about any sport in a pinch. During the Olympics I wrote about gymnastics, table tennis, diving and a number of other sports that I don’t follow outside the Olympics, and I think I did good work. Writing about sports isn’t like writing about economics or medicine, fields where I think the writer needs a lot of specialized knowledge. I think a good writer can write well about a sport without being an expert in it.

Q. Describe your typical workday?

A. I get up early, I turn on ESPN, and I start reading e-mails and various sports web sites. I try to get a lot written by 9 a.m. I find that if I get off to a fast start on the day, the momentum will keep me productive through the afternoon. My coffee habit and my ability to type fast keep me productive.

Q. Do you read all the comments to your posts? Do you measure the success of the post by the number of comments?

A. No and no. There was a time, when I was first getting into the sports writing business and writing for FootballOutsiders.com, when I read all the comments and found the vast majority to be well thought out and intelligent. But now that I’m writing more often and for bigger web sites, I find that the comments aren’t really all that helpful. I’d love to engage in thoughtful dialogue in the comments sections of my posts, but unfortunately it just doesn’t turn out that way very often.

Q. Your most controversial post? Any posts you regret?

A. I don’t know about one specific controversial post, but the most controversial subject, by far, was Michael Vick. When evidence of dog fighting was found on Vick’s property, I at first took him at his word that he was never there. But once I started looking into it, it was clear to me that Vick was lying and that he was involved in dog fighting. So for the next few months I wrote about Vick just about every day, trying to give readers a full sense of Vick’s dog fighting activities.

Over the course of those months, I got a constant barrage of negative feedback, in comments at FanHouse, e-mails, and things other bloggers wrote about me. That feedback got really nasty when Chris Mortensen reported on ESPN that Vick wouldn’t be indicted. But I was confident that what I was writing was accurate, and obviously, we now know it was.

Really, the only thing I regret is that when I posted about Mortensen’s report, I didn’t make clear how skeptical of it I was. I thought Mortensen was wrong, that he was being fed bad information by people close to Vick, and I should have made that more clear. But in subsequent posts I did make clear that I still believed the evidence was overwhelming that Vick was involved in dog fighting, and 11 days after Mortensen’s report, Vick was indicted. A little over a month after that, he pleaded guilty. I’m really proud of all of my Vick posts as a body of work, and I’m especially proud to have worked with Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk during the Vick case, because Mike set the gold standard in Vick coverage.

Q. Do you attend games as credentialed press??

A. Occasionally. I’ve attended four events in the last year as a credentialed member of the media: One NFL regular season game, the Super Bowl, the NFL scouting combine and one UFC event.

Q. Who and what do you read and watch – mainstream and non-mainstream – to keep up with sports?? Who in sports media has influenced you?

A. I watch lots and lots of ESPN, and I read all the major sports sites. As for non-mainstream, the blogs I tend to like best are the ones like Awful Announcing and The Big Lead that just decided to start doing things their own way and found an audience doing it. I really respect anyone who starts their own site and turns it into a successful enterprise. That’s an impressive achievement. It’s something that two of the people I’ve worked for, Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders and Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, have done, and I’ve been proud to work for their sites.

Even among mainstream writers, the people who have influenced me the most are the ones who do things their own way. I think Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated is probably the best writer in the history of professional football, if you look at his entire body of work, and it’s because he just watches games and writes what he sees. It really is that simple for him, and I try to keep what I do that simple as well.

Posted by Michael David Smith on collegefootballtalk.com, September 18, 2008, 8:18 a.m. EDT:

We’ve invited Russell Levine of Football Outsiders to post his Seventh Day Adventure podcast here at CFT. Russell is joined by Deadspin.com associated editor Clay Travis to discuss the weekends three big SEC clashes: Florida-Tennessee, LSU-Auburn and Georgia-Arizona State. Clay, author of Dixieland Delight, also shares some of the insights he’s gained while working on his latest book project, which has him spending the entire season behind the scenes with the Volunteer program.

(SMG thanks Michael David Smith for his cooperation)