This is going to sound sorta weird, but I have a friend on Twitter who works in the sex business.
Actually, that probably doesn’t sound weird. Because Twitter is filled with sex business employees, and a solid five have appeared in my Quaz Q&A series through the last six years or so.
Anyhow, “Mistress Amethyst” (as she is known) is a future Quaz and a really interesting human. In a way, she represents the good side of the information superhighway—from sex workers to retired athletes to traveling meat salesmen to former prison inmates, I’ve met a slew of individuals I’d otherwise never know. And that sort of exposure didn’t exist pre-WWW. It results in terrific exchanges and insights.
The other day Amethyst Tweeted about the death of her dog, Pedro. And it was, truly, one of the saddest things I’ve read of late …
I mean … shit. And it got me thinking about my own dog, Norma the cockapoo, who’s sleeping on a nearby couch as I write this. Pre-Norma, I had no emotional connections to animals. They were fuzzy, they were cute, they licked and barked and meowed. But, otherwise, they were just life’s ornaments. Here. Gone. There. Not there.
With the addition of Norma, that changed. She sleeps on our bed. She excitedly greets us when we arrive home. She doesn’t care about Trump or Franken or the Dodgers or the Jets. She just wants to be pet, walked, fed, loved. There are no real conditions. Just affection.
Not sure of the point, but the post on Pedro hit me in the gut.
A couple of years ago, while working out on the StairMaster at my local 24 Hour Fitness, I found myself watching SportsCenter and simultaneously Tweeting angrily about Neil Everett, one of the anchors. I don’t recall what set me off—a word choice? A tie? Just a shitty day? It’s a blank.
What I do remember is this: Moments later Stan Verrett, Neil’s sidekick, replied with a message along the lines of a friendly, respectable, “Hey, we all try our best.” It was classy as classy can be.
Anyhow, I kept in loose touch with Stan via social media, and today—at long last—the terrific Los Angeles-based SportsCenter anchor joins the ranks of the Quaz. Stan is a legitimately fascinating guy—New Orleans born and raised; parents who you’ll have to read about to believe; a former fifth-team wide receiver who saw media as his most likely entrance into the world of pro sports.
JEFF PEARLMAN:Stan, I’m gonna start with a blunt one: Do you ever get tired of it all? What I mean is—sports, sports, sports, TV studio, TV studio, TV studio, highlights, chatter, highlights, chatter? I ask not to be snide, but because it actually doesn’t look like you get tired of it. You seem, from afar at least, to be a guy who digs his work.
STAN VERRETT: I never get tired of it. I mean, I like to travel, so I need time off like everyone else, but the job itself, the time on-air, is still a blast, especially when big things happen in sports. People turn to ESPN when important things happen and if they happen to fall during our time on the air, it’s my job to show them, and talk to those who can provide perspective on them. Doing highlights is the most fun part of the job for me, so I’ve always enjoyed being on shows that are highlight driven. I always wanted to do the late SportsCenter because it was the one I watched. Honestly, sometimes I still can’t believe it. It’s a tremendous honor and responsibility to continue building the brand, because it’s iconic. The other great thing about doing the job in Los Angeles is that it’s such a small operation, everyone knows each other. That’s not possible in Bristol because the campus is so large.
S.V.: There’s a lot to unpack with that. As I said that night, I stand for the flag, and the anthem. Always have, because I believe in the promise the flag represents. But I also believe that America has fallen woefully short of delivering on that promise to some of its citizens. There has to be an ongoing reckoning with that if we are going to continue to progress as a society. So Colin Kaepernick made a personal decision to follow his conscience and protest injustice and oppression, with a particular emphasis on the killing of unarmed people of color at the hands of the police. I understand how uncomfortable his protest makes some people. It makes me uncomfortable. I wish we could tackle something as morally simple as stamping out racism and other forms of discrimination without protest. But for whatever reason, we can’t. People are so busy with their own lives that they may not be focused on the concerns of others, even if they’re legitimate. So at some point, someone has to say, “Stop, this isn’t right,” to create a greater awareness of the issues. Kaepernick did that. So then there’s the backlash.
I’m not sure I believe there was a meeting of NFL teams and they all agreed not to sign him. I think that individual teams are afraid of the reaction that they would get if they signed him, so even those who could use his services were not willing to step out of line and sign him. Personally, I think that’s the NFL’s loss. You have a talented player, who had already taken a team to the Super Bowl, who was still growing as a quarterback. And he has grown even more as a human being, into a socially conscious, selfless spokesperson for a cause bigger than himself. With all the image problems that the NFL has had stemming from anti-social and even criminal behavior from other players, I would think that a forward-thinking league or team official would look to a player such as Kaepernick to help improve its image, especially in a league with the racial makeup of the NFL. The NFL could learn a lot from the NBA on issues like this. I’m sure Kaepernick calculated the risk he was taking before he decided to go public with his protest. And since I truly believe this was about his conscience, I believe he will accept the results, even if it means he never suits up again in the NFL. The national dialogue he started, and the efforts of those who followed his lead have made it clear that his protest was successful. And that’s more important that throwing a football.
With former Saints star Tracy Porter.
J.P.:During that monologue you evoked, powerfully, your father, saying, “My Dad served in the army, dealt with discrimination in the army, came back from his service after World War II and was not afforded the full rights as a citizen.” This makes me extremely fascinated by your father. Who was he? What was he like? And what was his military experience?
S.V.: My father was my first hero. I grew up in a rough neighborhood in New Orleans, with crime and drugs. When I was very young, I knew I never had to be scared of the stuff around me because my dad was there to protect us. Even the baddest dudes in the neighborhood knew, “Mr. Verrett is crazy, so don’t mess with them.” As I got older, his example of doing the right thing, even when it wasn’t convenient, was the guiding force that kept me in line. He did not have much formal education. He dropped out of high school to go to work because his family was poor and his father wasn’t around. He later joined the Army Air Force, the precedent to the current Air Force. He served in World War II in Europe, driving trucks carrying bombs to fighter planes, because black soldiers were not allowed into combat at that time. After the war, he learned to work with his hands, becoming a plasterer and cement mason, and served as president of his union’s local. He fought for fair wages and the rights of other workers who were being exploited by contractors and builders. That was just one facet of the virulent racism he faced in still-segregated Louisiana. Still, he was a patriot through and through, a true representative of the greatest generation. He remained engaged politically his entire life, hoping to make the country a better place. You would have had to fight him if you tried to take off his prized WWII veteran’s cap, which he wore every day, right up until he died two years ago. He had a full military funeral, and I keep the service emblem from his casket on my nightstand.
(L-R) Neil Everett, Kenny Mayne, Rob Gronkowski, Gordon Gronkowski and Stan.
J.P.:I was going through some old clips, and I found an announcement in Newport News, Virginia from back in 1992, explaining that Stan Verrett “has joined WOWI morning announcers Chase Thomas and Cheryl Wilkerson.” Which means, I presume, you worked the morning drive-time circuit. And I’ve always been sorta fascinated by this time slot–because it seems like one has to be filled with energy and vigor when he’d rather be in bed. So what was the experience like?
S.V.: Morning radio was a blast. Before I got started in television, it was my focus. I loved working with Chase and Cheryl. I was “Stan the Man.” We had a great show together for five years, usually No. 1 in the Norfolk ratings. It’s been 20 years, but people still reach out frequently about the show. It’s a grind getting up at 4 am but once I was up, the job was fun. 103 Jamz is an urban music station, but the program director, Steve Crumbley, gave us the latitude to talk as much as we needed to in the morning, as events warranted. For example, Allen Iverson is from the area, and when he got arrested in the bowling alley incident, there was a lot of anger. We took calls every day for two weeks to allow people to vent and hash out the issues. Other days we talked about relationships, celebrities or whatever was happening, in between the best hip hop and R&B songs. I learned how to really communicate on the air in that job, and that experience still serves me today.
J.P.:You’re from New Orleans and I’ve read that your childhood home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. I’ve never asked anyone this before, but what was it like, watching from (presumably) afar as Katrina hit? I know that sounds dumb, because the answer would surely be, “Awful.” But I guess what I mean is—is the feeling helplessness? Heartbreak? Terror? Rage? What do you recall?
S.V.: Katrina was an awful experience. My parents were both retired and living in New Orleans at the time. My mom was a college professor, who graduated from Dillard University, and got her Ph.D from Tulane, and taught at Dillard and Xavier University, all in her hometown. They are dyed-in-the-wool New Orleanians, who didn’t want to live anywhere else. Growing up, we usually rode out hurricanes in one of the sturdy buildings at Dillard. There was always flooding where we lived, so like a lot of other families, we just waited for the water to recede, replaced the sheetrock and got on with our lives. But Katrina was different. When they said they were evacuating, I knew it was serious. I was on vacation, starting in Detroit for a friend’s birthday party. Then I was going to Miami, but the storm originally was headed there, and my flight got cancelled. So I rebooked to New Orleans. Then Katrina turned around in the Gulf of Mexico and headed for New Orleans. So I rebooked for Miami. That’s where I was when the levees broke and flooded New Orleans. It was a beautiful day on South Beach, a great contrast to the destruction I was watching on television. My parents drove to my brother’s house in Atlanta. The house in New Orleans took on six feet of water. No one entered until I went there at Thanksgiving, three months later. The worst part was finding my mom’s academic records mildewed in the mess. She took great pride in her achievements, and never got less than an A in any class from kindergarten through graduate school, valedictorian of every class that named one. I lost it when I saw them damaged. Luckily we were able to get them refurbished. we lost pretty much everything, but lives. I tweeted to the folks in Irma’s path to leave if they could. We have replaced everything that was important that was lost in the storm, but many people lost loved ones who didn’t or couldn’t evacuate.
J.P.:Soup to nuts, how did this happen for you? Like, when did you know—know, know—you wanted to go into media? Were you the kid with a pretend mic? Were you the sports junkie? Was there a lightbulb moment?
S.V.: I knew from the time I was an adolescent that I wanted a career in media. I have always loved both radio and television. But sports was my first love. So my plan was to play football, wide receiver at LSU, win the Sugar Bowl, get drafted in the first round by the Saints, play 10 years in the NFL, then retire and become a broadcaster. Then I got to St. Augustine High School, which was coming off back-to-back state championships at the highest level in Louisiana. And I saw what real football talent looked like. Our school has produced NFL stars for years. Right now, St. Aug grads Tyrann Mathieu, Leonard Fournette, Trai Turner and Lorenzo Doss are all in the NFL. I was slow and skinny, but I worked my ass off to make the team as a receiver in the spring of my sophomore year. But the next fall, I missed a couple practices because of a family emergency. You did not miss practice at St. Aug, for any reason. I will never forget walking into the locker room and seeing I fell from third string to fifth string at split end. It took everything I had to make third string. I knew I would never play that far down the depth chart, so I quit. It’s still the biggest regret of my life. But I swore I would never quit at anything ever again in my life.
And that’s just the attitude I needed for broadcasting. I knew the football team inside out, so I became sports editor of our school paper. Then in college, I was sports editor for the campus paper, a copy aide at the Washington Post for three years, and a radio DJ as well. I tried to get as much experience as possible. I took a radio job in Charleston, S.C. after graduation. Three years later, I went to Norfolk. In addition to the radio job, I also worked in television there. My first job was at WAVY, the NBC affiliate, and then WVEC, the ABC affiliate. In 1998, I went him to WDSU, the NBC affiliate in New Orleans. I was there for two years, and then left for ESPN. I realized at some point my real talents were speaking and writing, but I would have traded some of that for a faster 40 time back in the day. Still, I’m happy with the way things turned out.
J.P.: You attended Howard University, a noted HSBC. And, having written and researched a biography of Walter Payton (who attended Jackson State), I feel like I have a pretty solid working knowledge of HSBCs and their place in American culture and tradition. What I can’t tell is if they’re still viable. What I mean is, it seems fewer and fewer young African-Americans are seeking out HSBCs in the way they did, oh, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. Do you agree? Disagree? And why did you pick Howard? And what did you get from the experience?
S.V.: My mom taught at black colleges, and I grew up on Dillard’s campus, hoping to one day be like the cool college kids. Howard was similar to Dillard, but bigger, internationally known and respected, and in a major market for my media aspirations. St. Augustine is an all-black, all-boys high school and it prepared me well academically. I was a National Merit and National Achievement finalist coming out of high school. I could have gone anywhere. I chose Howard. What I loved about Howard is the nurturing that I got there. College is an important time in a young person’s life, and the support that I got from professors at Howard was critical to my success. Like my mother, they were on a specific mission to educate black students. They chose Howard, too. The campus newspaper? That was there for me, and students like me. The student radio station? For me. The student-produced newscast that I anchored my senior year with Michelle Miller, who’s now a correspondent and anchor for CBS News? For us. The job at the Washington Post? Set up by Dr. Lawrence Kaggwa, former chair of the journalism department, who is probably responsible for more working black journalists than any single professor in America. I got to enjoy college without ever having to think about racism, or having it taint any of my experiences there, which is a tremendous luxury for a young black man, trying to find his place in the world. Black colleges and universities continue to produce a disproportionate amount of professionals in just about every field. That nurturing and sense of mission is the reason. I have many friends who went to big, predominantly white universities, and they enjoyed them. But Howard was the right place for me.
J.P.:Like my beloved Sports Illustrated, ESPN is struggling a bit to figure out and adjust to the modern media landscape. It’s confusing, it’s fast, it seems to change and shift every seven seconds. So I wonder—can the SportsCenter model that you host survive long-term? Are people still saying, “Ah, it’s [whatever o’clock]. Stan and Neil are on! To the couch!”? And how do you think outlets need to change to maintain audiences?
S.V.: I think SportsCenter can survive as it is, especially shows such as ours, on at night, after games. People are busy, and as much as they would like to watch every game, they can’t. Life happens. Dinner, movies, your kid’s recital, play or game. So you missed the game. We have the highlights when you get home. Sure, maybe you saw one of Steph Curry’s nine triples on your phone, but that’s not going to give you the depth, or volume you want. When people stop buying 50-inch televisions, we may have an issue, but until then, there’s still a desire for quality content on television. Programs shouldered to live game broadcasts are the safest bets for ratings, I would think, since the audience is already there. But if you create a relationship with your audience, and deliver a unique perspective in a compelling way, you can carve out a consistent audience. That’s been the goal for us from the start. And it’s why I love working with Neil. We come at the material from totally different perspectives, but because of that, we cover a lot of real estate, and we sincerely enjoy each other’s company and invite viewers to join the fun. I think the opinion shows are here to stay as well, mirroring what has happened with news programs.
J.P.:When John Saunders passed last year, you were brought in to replace him on ABC’s college football studio show. How did you approach that? How hard was it?
S.V.: It was pretty sudden. John died unexpectedly less than three weeks before the season began. I had to get up to speed really quickly. Mack Brown and Mark May made the transition easier for me. I had to fly across the country from LA to Bristol every Friday. And those were working flights, reading up on games. It was a challenge, but I enjoyed it more and more as the season went on. I love Mack Brown. I wish he would run for president in 2020. Kevin Negandhi is in that chair now, with Mack and Booger McFarland. That’s a great team. I have enjoyed watching them.
J.P.:You joined ESPN in Sept. 2000. What was the process like? I mean, interviews, auditions? And how did you find out you landed the gig?
S.V.: I went to Bristol for the interview in 2000. The morning part of the interview involves meeting producers and executives, and then lunch. In my case, lunch was with Al Jaffe, who had recruited me. Then after lunch, I had to write and anchor a show that was about 20 minutes long. I did pretty well and rolled right through it. The guy operating the camera said “you got the job, man. They never roll right through it without stopping.” So I left feeling like I’d be back. My agent called me a few days later to confirm. It was an awesome feeling.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH STAN VERRETT:
• Your cousin Jason plays for the Chargers. Three memories of him growing up: I didn’t know Jason growing up. I didn’t become aware of him until he got to TCU. Looking forward to seeing him play here in LA.
• In 17 words, make an argument for the University of Akron’s football national championship hopes: I don’t know anything about Akron, so when it comes to their title hopes, I’ll Zip it.
• I want to get off Facebook. I also want to keep selling books, and social media helps sell books. What should I do?: Stay on Facebook, and sell those books. I’m sure there’s a way to avoid those people who are reaching out because they’ve read your books, think you’re rich, and have a Can’t Miss business idea for you.
• Three memories from your all-time worst date: She didn’t want to dance, and the DJ was great. She caused a scene at the bar. She got in her car and left me in downtown San Francisco after I had flown there from Connecticut to see her.
• The world needs to know: What does Neil Everett’s hair smell like?: I don’t know. But he’s really, really proud of the way it looks.
• I’m terrified of death. You? Why or why not?: I used to be terrified of death. But as I get older, I’m not. It’s inevitable, so I’m just focused on making the most of the time I have alive. My father’s acceptance and strength in his final days reassured me.
Concussions, Koch Brothers: Bad stuff, great journalism
Back in the spring of 1991, I was a University of Delaware freshman who desperately wanted to be a journalist.
My problem, however, was overeager assholeness. Or, put different, I was a little dickwad.
The student newspaper, The Review, had a pretty strict no-freshman policy, but I was allowed to cover some sporting events after showing off clips from my hometown weekly newspaper. Before long, however, the editors tired of this whiney little 18-year old complaining about changes to his copy. And, one day, a Review higher-up named Josh Putterman pulled me aside and (in the kindest way possible) said I was no longer welcome in the offices.
I was crushed.
Ultimately, after writing a truly pathetic apology letter, I was permitted to return. And one day I asked whether they would allow me to write a piece on the state’s only major colleges (Delaware and Delaware State). Specifically, why two Division I-AA football programs never played one another.
“Sure,” someone said.
I doubt the editors thought much would develop from this. But, come spring I submitted a piece that would ultimately run across the front page of the April 16, 1991 newspaper. The headline: DELAWARE VS. DELAWARE STATE: THE SPORTS RIVALRY THAT NEVER WAS.
The aftermath was dizzying. The Delaware athletic director insisted he was misquoted—until I played him a tape of the interview. My friends and family members were thrilled. I was hired by The Review as an assistant sports editor for the following year. Delaware and Delaware State agreed to start playing.
Best of all, for me, was a small moment heard by, at most, 200 people.
At the time the campus radio station was WXDR, and toward semester’s end Chuck Stone, the legendary Philadelphia Daily News scribe and my Intro to Journalism professor, appeared on air for an interview. When asked about the work at The Review, he began talking about Delaware-Delaware State. And he said (and I can still hear his voice, even though Chuck died several years back): “Jeff Pearlman, my student, wrote that. My student.”
Man, I wish I kept the tape.
That’s a rambling, self-indulgent intro to a blog post that isn’t actually about me.
I teach journalism at Chapman University here in Orange, California. The class meets once per week, from 7-9:50 pm, and it’s a genuine joy for me. I love the banter, I love the writing. Mostly, I love the students. There are 13 in the room, and they’re all terrific. And when they write well, or dig deep, or even bring forth a funky/cool/dazzling sentence or paragraph, I well up with pride.
Both Jamie and Jacob are Grade-A students and people. But, best of all (in this case), they’re dogged. They worked and worked and worked and dug and dug and dug. They didn’t rest until the stories felt fully reported, didn’t stop until all stones were overturned.
The end result: Two remarkable pieces of student journalism that, I hope, bring them the same sense of accomplishment as DELAWARE VS. DELAWARE STATE once brought a young punk in the First State.
Mirin Fader is my pal and an excellent contributor to Bleacher Report and ESPN.com. She’s also about 20 years my junior, and therefore it brings me great joy that she has yet to solve the iPhone ‘I’ glitch (To quote the wife: “Really? That took me seven seconds”). Here’s Mirin’s sad take on the situation …
I’m a sports writer.
I should be #pivotingtovideo.
I should be starting my own podcast.
I should be a multimedia maven.
But at the moment? I can’t figure out how to fix the Apple glitch. That’s right. Don’t tell me to go into Keyboard and Text Replacement and put a lowercase “i” and an uppercase I in each spot.
Been there. Done that. At least 10 times.
I’ve re-started my phone. I’ve seen it work for a minute then the next sentence time I type I into a sentence, it gives me now a lower-case “i.”
I’m damn near close to booking my Genius Bar appointment. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve gone in there and made a fool out of myself.
My ipod Nano’s battery broke recently (yes, I still use my nano. It’s adorable. I can’t give it up).
My iPhone 6’s storage was ruining my life (sorry I want to listen to 13 podcasts?) My space bar of my MacBook wasn’t working (Am I typing too hard? Is this why the man at my favorite coffee shop keeps staring at me and one time told me I’m going to develop carpal tunnel?)
Apple, I don’t know. I’m tired of you making a fool of me when I try to use Twitter so I can grow my #brand
With little fanfare, Emmett Leo Pearlman, age 11, retired from baseball today.
The journeyman second baseman/shortstop/third baseman/left fielder/right fielder/center fielder and general No. 8-thru-13 hitter hung up his neon green (meant-for-flag football) spikes and oversized (handed down from his cousin Isaiah) uniform pants at the conclusion of the Dodgers’ 15-14 Sunday afternoon loss to a team with a name his father failed to remember.
Pearlman, who entered sporting a .220 average with 2 RBI and six stolen bases in seven games, went 2-for-2 in the finale, including a hard-hit line-drive single to right in the second. “That was good,” he said afterward. Then, when asked to elaborate, added, “I don’t know. I’m happy. Can we get a Slurpee?”
The conclusion to a seven-year, two-state, nine-franchise career took the Dodgers front office by surprise. Fans and family members, however, anticipated the announcement for a few weeks, ever since Pearlman said, over a late-October lunch at his California home, “I think this is it for me in baseball.”
The reasons were myriad. Pearlman became increasingly interested in distance running. He was overtaken by the extra homework load of middle school. Mostly, however, he seemed to tire of the Southern California youth baseball scene. Though he had nothing but kind words for his wonderful Dodger coaches and teammates, Pearlman (and his parents) didn’t want to devote all his time to spring baseball—where everything seems to turn a bit wacky. He liked the game, but didn’t love it. What once seemed to be about fun and bonding too often morphed into a weird world where adults brought radar guns to clock 10-year-olds; where too many coaches (again, not the Dodgers) seemed to focus on winning-winning-winning over joy; where, in his words, “it just got too serious.”
“There are some amazing people in youth baseball out here,” said Jeff Pearlman, his father. “But come spring there’s really nowhere for a kid who enjoys the game, but doesn’t live for it. That’s a bummer.”
Ever since his debut with the unnamed team with red uniforms in the New Rochelle, N.Y. Little League back in 2011, Pearlman has been a solid-yet-unspectacular ballplayer; one his father glowingly compares to “a young Homer Bush.” Though he never batted above .300 or hit a home run, he played solid defense and once struck out the side with the 2015 Angels. His teams sometimes won and sometimes lost. Pearlman was rarely the hero, but also rarely the goat. He loved getting a new uniform, making the throw from second to first, walking, stealing bases and joking with teammates in the dugout.
While his parents won’t miss the long games, Emmett’s father is genuinely sad.
“It’s not about baseball,” he says. “It’s about my son growing up.”
That sounds crazy in hindsight, but back in Mahopac N.Y. in the early 1980s, the town’s four elementary schools ended the academic year with a run around Lake Mahopac. To qualify, you had to show you could jog three miles—which I did.
So, at age 8, I dashed around the lake.
And again at age 9. And 10. And 11. And 12.
Those early jaunts turned me into a runner’s runner. I began competing in races all over Putnam and Westchester counties. Five milers, six milers, eight milers, half marathons. I probably averaged, oh, 20 races per year through middle school, then joined the Mahopac High track and cross country teams. I would ultimately go on to compete (“compete” is a stretch, admittedly) in a year of track and cross country at the University of Delaware, then run 11 marathons.
Then my back died.
It happened about eight years ago. I was running regularly with a friend, preparing for another marathon, when I started feeling this shooting pain down my right leg. It was borderline unbearable, and a trip to the doctor concluded with the awful diagnosis of disc damage. The options were not good: Relatively ineffective physical therapy or (egad) permanently dreadful spinal fusion. Or I could just stop running.
So, with a heavy heart, I stopped running. Just gave up my lifetime love. I still played basketball, I still went to the gym (more than ever, actually), but the long, winding trots across America were forever a past part of my existence.
Eventually, we get used to things. You lose your right hand, you use your left. Your spouse dies, you gradually return to dating. It’s sort of who we are. Adaptable. Adjustable. So I adapted and adjusted, and running became this thing that used to be me. I missed it. But less and less and less and less …
My son Emmett is 11. He’s a good-not-great athlete who has played baseball, flag football and basketball. His best sport, of course, is distance running. He’s not a burner, but he puts his head down and chugs ahead at a determined clip.
A few years ago I ran with him a couple of times—usually two or three miles. It was lovely, but limited. Short trots, nice chatter. Recently he joined the running club at his middle school. They work out three days per week after school, then (generally) either an organized race or long training run on weekends. Parents are allowed to participate, and I thought, “Well … hmm.”
I did a three-mile run with him a month ago. No problem.
I did a four-mile run with him a few weeks ago. No problem.
Today, we did a six-miles run. No problem.
It’s not fast. It’s not competitive. I’ll never be what I was at 18, or 22, or even 30. But—I’m giddy. I love running with my son, more than I ever loved running by myself. We chat. We joke. We compare notes. He explains his thoughts on school, on sports, on science. We actually have this running game, where we pick a topic and both of us need to write a poem. Example … boogers:
I have a booger
On my nose
It’s green and nasty
Smells like my toes
Where it goes
I’ll never knows
Stick that thing
Back in my nose.
Today, during the six, we tried something different. His running club is called WEROCK. So we played the acronym game. For a half hour, it was WENDY ELIZABETH RETURNS ON CHERRY KICKS and WILL ED REYNOLDS ONLY CLEAT KILL? I know it sounds silly, but—for me—it was electrifying and life-affirming. It also reminded me how running, truly, isn’t about winning or losing or even PRs. It’s about embracing moments; focusing on the zen; just … being.
It goes without saying that we are approaching a very special anniversary of a very special holiday moment.
This Christmas, exactly 29 years ago, Mike Brady nearly died wearing a beige Members Only jacket. He was saved not by a heroic police officer, or a rescue crew, or even Mr. T. No, he was saved by the angelic singing of his wife, Carol Brady.
Here is the official oral history of that moment, from the people involved:
Mike Brady:So they called me down to the construction site. And I’m not really sure why, because I’m just an architect.
Carol Brady:Well, you’re very intelligent.
Mike Brady:OK, fair enough. But I’m just an architect, not a fireman. But there was an accident on a job I was working, and they called me to … I dunno. I guess they wanted me to handle things. We had all been at home, eating Alice’s famous Christmas goose …
Alice:It was chicken. I bought it ready-made at Ralph’s.
Carol Brady:Alice made the greatest Christmas goose.
Alice:Seriously, it was fucking chicken.
Mike Brady:Anyhow, I left dinner. Which stinks, because Alice’s Christmas goose is the stuff of legend.
Alice:It’s a supermarket chicken. In a plastic bag.
Mike Brady:I went to the site. And there was police tape, but no police. And that was odd. So of course I crossed it, and I went in. Even though, again, I was just an architect in my beige Members Only jacket. And after I entered the whole site just collapsed. It was a big BOOM!
Carol Brady:We were all gathered around the table. Me, and Marcia, and Jan, and the actress who played an adult Cindy, and Greg, and Peter, and Bobby, and the uncredited grandkids. And Alice, of course, who violated family rules by not wearing her maid outfit.
Alice:I hate them all. Always had.
Carol Brady:And we received a call that there was an accident at the site, and Mike might be dead!
Greg Brady:It was pretty traumatic. So, of course, we loaded everyone in the car and drove down to the site. Because if Grandpa’s dead, his grandchildren absolutely need to be there.
Grandkid No. 3:Grandma smelled like bleach and peanut butter
Grandkid No. 4:She had a cheek mole. It was the size of an Oreo. They used so much makeup on that thing.
Carol Brady:I wore my beautiful green Christmas suit.
Alice:She’s such a bitch. They all are. Bunch of bitches. And I’m telling you, just between us, Mr. Brady had been dating Sam for four years.
Mike Brady:It wasn’t as bad as you think. The building collapsed, but I was in there with four of the workers. I mean, two of them were dead. So that was disappointing. But two weren’t. And it was cold enough that the dead bodies didn’t smell that bad.
The Actress Playing an Adult Cindy Brady:I’m embarrassed to admit this, but my first thought was, “If he’s dead, do I still get to open my presents?”
Jan Brady:Me too.
Marcia Brady:He’s not even our real dad.
Greg Brady:The construction site was groovy, man. Police tape was up, Dad was inside. There weren’t that many people around, and I said to Mom, “Hey, you’re kind of hot.”
Carol Brady:He did say that.
Greg Brady:But then I said, “Shouldn’t we call the police? Or the fire department?”
Carol Brady:I told the kids there was one thing—and one thing only—that would save my husband: The power of song.
Peter Brady:It was so fucking preposterous.
Alice:Always about her. Always.
Carol Brady:I started singing, ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful.’ It wasn’t my first choice, but the network thought it was spiritual enough for the scene, but not too Jesusy. Plus, I knew my angelic voice would save Mike.
Bobby Brady:She sings like a duck fucking a seal.
Carol Brady:I sing like an angel. And I know, deep in my heart, Mike heard me. I know that saved him.
Mike Brady:One of the trapped guys had a deck of cards and a jug of Jägermeister. It was awesome. I was sloshed, happy as shit. Then my fucking scene-stealing wife starts singing.
Carol Brady:The acoustics were outstanding.
Mike Brady: I told the guy with the Jägermeister—”Just watch. She’s gonna be wearing that green suit. Just for attention.”
The Actress Playing an Adult Cindy Brady:Once she began to sing I hugged Mom. It was in the script. Then I started singing with her. Look, I was making $5,000 for the whole two-week shoot. I needed a moment to announce, “I’m here!”
Greg Brady:I was rooting for Dad to be dead.
Peter Brady:Greg was rooting for Dad to be dead. He had a thing for Mom. Which was kinda creepy, even though she wasn’t our real mom. So she and Greg could have had kids and they wouldn’t end up with six thumbs. I think. Right? I dunno.
Mike Brady: Finally I was like, “Ugh, dammit. I’ve gotta leave.” So I took a last swig, crawled through the narrow space and emerged. I was surprised by the number of extras they roped in to look concerned. That was touching.
Extra No. 12:Just being honest, I thought we were on the set of “Murder She Wrote.” But this was also fine. It’s not every day you meet Eve Plumb.
Carol Brady:I ran up to hug Mike. That was great. But then the kids joined in. That wasn’t great.
Jan Brady:She’s such a bitch.
Marcia Brady:Dad was totally drunk.
Greg Brady:Dad was always drunk. Always. He wasn’t a bad father. Except when he used to stamp out cigarettes on my temples. And when he kicked me in the knee with a steel boot. And when he told me I was an ungrateful dickwad who would never amount to anything. Yeah, he was drunk.
Mike Brady:At that moment, surrounded by family and extras, I truly understood the real meaning of Christmas.
Carol Brady: At that moment, surrounded by family and extras, I truly understood the real meaning of Christmas.
Greg Brady: At that moment, surrounded by family and extras, I truly understood the real meaning of Christmas.
He and I haven’t talked, but he surely knows it. The gubernatorial turns. The local race upheaval. Everything pointed to the beginning of an anti-Donald Trump movement; a screaming for normalcy and decency and compassion.
Am I being overly optimistic? Perhaps. But it felt real. Feels real.
On paper, Justin Kanew is a long shot’s long shot to win next year’s congressional race for Tennessee’s 7th District. He’s a Los Angeles transplant; a young Jewish man running in a historically conservative neck of the woods. Even though Marsha Blackburn, the incumbent, has since announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate (This interview was conducted before the change—I left Justin’s original answers, then added a few extra updated questions), the betting man would probably have to go with the new far-right nut job on the block—Mark Green.
And yet …
Justin Kanew has something snappy. He’s engaging. He’s embracing. He wants voters to send e-mails—and promises to respond. He’s a two-time contestant on The Amazing Race; a longtime media presence with a winning personality and genuine integrity. I’ve known Justin for a good while, and he happens to be a legitimately nice human being. Sincere. Honest.
Again, can he win? I don’t know. But today’s Quaz subject is willing to discuss all issues, ranging from Trump to health insurance to Tommy John v. Old Navy. You can follow him on Facebook here, Twitter here, and visit his website here.
Justin Kanew, win or lose, you’re the 334th Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:So Justin, you’re running for the congressional seat held by Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee’s 7th District. And, just being 100-percent honest, from afar I see no way you can win. She’s a well-known, well-funded incumbent in a conservative district in a Republican state—and you’re a Jewish Californian who has barely lived in Tennessee. Tell me what I’m not seeing?
JUSTIN KANEW: Well good morning to you too, Jeff! A lot going on in this one so let me try to unpack it. First of all, you’re right, I’m definitely a major underdog here. Marsha has been in the seat for 16 years, has $2-to-$3 million sitting in the bank, and people know who she is. There’s no question about any of that. But what’s also true is if you ask anyone on the street what she’s done to help improve their lives, for the most part they don’t have an answer.
Marsha gets on the shows and spouts her party talking points, but I don’t think that’s what most people on either side of the aisle are looking for these days, and I think this past election showed us that. Marsha takes big money from big oil, big telecom, big everything. She’s not fighting for the working families of Tennessee. I am. I’m running a grass roots campaign, and I’m not for sale. To get that message across we’re putting together an army of volunteers—we have close to 200 already—and yes raising money, and most importantly traveling the district and listening to the concerns of everyone in the district no matter who they’ve voted for in the past. And in this moment, with the renewed spirit I’m seeing out there, and with some other great state-wide candidates campaigning like Karl Dean and Craig Fitzhugh for governor and James Mackler for Senate, I think we have a greater shot at turning people out than we have had in the past.
As for the rest of your question—yes I’m “Jewish,” my grandparents survived Auschwitz and the holocaust on one side, and my grandpa was a World War II tailgunner on the other. But I think people here are less concerned with where you pray than that you pray. They’re looking for a man or woman of faith who believes in God and embodies the spirit of togetherness and community Middle Tennessee genuinely stands for, and who carries the main message of the bible which is taking care of our neighbors and the poor. Sometimes that message seems to get lost.
As for “Californian” part—yes, we moved here from California. Before that I lived in Chicago. Before that I was born in New York. I’ve been an American my whole life, and my wife and I moved to Tennessee over a year ago with our baby because we were looking for a community-oriented place where people look out for and take care of one another. Middle Tennessee is that place.
It’s a really special place, Jeff. We love it here. This is our home. I didn’t grow up here, but my baby girl Kaia will. And by no means are we the only transplants here. This area is exploding. Sixty percent of Williamson County wasn’t born in Tennessee, and that includes Marsha who’s from Mississippi. We came here for a reason, and the bottom line is this special place deserves to be represented by someone who embodies the love and compassion and mercy I see here every single day. I think most people are less concerned where a representative was born than they are about being represented by someone who will always put their interests ahead of my own and tell them the truth, and not become compromised by corporate donors just for the sake of keeping a seat, which to me is the fundamental problem this country faces every single day. It’s corporate interests vs. the interests of the people, and I know where I stand.
Sorry for the long answer, but you asked a lot there.
J.P.: You were preparing yourself to run against Blackburn. Then, bam, she announced a senate run. Now you’re up against Mark Green, a state senator/Iraq war vet who loves Donald Trump and has referred to anti-transgender measures as a chance to “crush evil.” How does that change your approach? Does it make a win more likely? Easier?
J.K. There’s no question running for a now-open seat helps our chances. Now it’s our job to do the work and get our message out there. As you mentioned, Mark Green was even too extreme for Trump’s team and had to withdraw his cabinet nomination. I believe if you’re too extreme for this president, you’re too extreme for District 7. For instance, Williamson County voted for Rubio in the primary. I’m hopeful that the moderates and independents in the district who aren’t interested in taking that extreme turn and who may feel left behind by the party will take the time to get to know me and see that we have a lot more in common than they realize. So I don’t want to say the race got “easier” necessarily, but I do hope we can find more people on both sides of the aisle who think we need to get back to talking to one another and are tired of all the division, and who are ready to put country over party, which is what I intend to do every step of the way.
J.P.:You seem particularly agitated over Blackburn’s town hall in Fairview, then her appearance on CNN. Why is this such a huge deal to you? And do you consider her to be a dishonest person?
J.K.: The town hall in Fairview was a huge deal, because it spoke to her character in a very real way. That place was full of people who lived in her district. She ID’d them at the door. It didn’t go well (and by the way—she hasn’t done one since). Then she had the nerve to go on CNN with Wolf Blitzer and tell him “less than a third” were from her district—when those people were on video raising their hands saying they were. Then, when she gets busted for the lie, she says “big deal, we have more important things to worry about.” Well guess what, Marsha? It is a big deal. Integrity matters. If your child was caught lying, would that be a big deal? As a father I say yes.
That was the moment i started thinking “someone has to run against her.” She had very clearly started to feel invincible, and had stopped listening to the people she’s supposed to represent. And yes i think It spoke to who she is, and what she’s willing to do and say.
It didn’t stop there either—recently she held a “tele-town hall” where she didn’t tell anyone it was coming, then sent out robo-calls at dinnertime mainly to her supporters. We heard from a few people who were on there, probably by mistake, and it was just Marsha spouting her talking points with pre-screened questions. She then posted results of a bogus “poll” she ran saying 80 percent of our district wanted the ACA repealed no matter what, which is the opposite of reality (and of a real poll she herself had run on Twitter), and used that as the basis for a media blitz.
So do I consider her to be a dishonest person? Let’s just say this isn’t the stuff honest people do. This is someone who voted against bipartisan Harvey relief under the guise of being concerned with “playing politics,” and resisted a military climate change study with bipartisan support while telling us the earth is in a “cooling trend” (which might have something to do with the big oil money behind her). Someone who told us the generals were behind the transgender military ban when they weren’t. Let’s just say honesty is quite clearly not her strength. Honest people would stand there and face the music no matter how tough it gets, which is what I would do if I were in there, and what I have done and plan to continue to do as we campaign.
J.P.:You seem to be in a tight pickle, because you’re clearly not a fan of Donald Trump, yet you’re running in a region that he won easily. So is it more now a matter of convincing people you’ll find ways to work with the president, or convincing people the president sucks?
J.K.: Here’s the thing—I’m not running against Donald Trump. Do I agree with him on everything? Of course not. But would I love to see him succeed and do right by this country. That’s a resounding yes. I’m not out there calling for his impeachment, which may put me in the minority in the party—I think we need to see where the various investigations go and then see where we are, and if we’re going that route there better be a smoking gun, because if the evidence isn’t inarguable we’re going to have a real problem on our hands in terms of almost half the country losing faith in the system, and possibly reacting violently. I’m truly afraid of that.
As far as bipartisanship, I’m a big yes on that. I think we need to get back to working together. I’m hopeful that a bipartisan ACA fix is coming. It was good to see a bipartisan decision to back Harvey Relief. John McCain’s “No” on ACA repeal was heartening, and I hope he stays consistent with this Graham-Cassidy bill we’re now facing. I think people really do want to see their government stop making obstruction the No. 1 goal on both sides and get some stuff done in a real way. There’s a “Problem Solvers” caucus in congress now, and I’d be really interested in being a part of that. I’m old enough to remember when bipartisanship wasn’t a threat.
Now that doesn’t mean I’ll stop being a critic of the president—even his staunchest Republican supporters criticize him at times. But I’ll also commend him for doing things like talking to “Nancy and Chuck” about DACA. I think we need to reward that when it happens. The bottom line for the sake of this race is I’m a non-politician who wants to fight for the working families no matter who they vote for.
J.P.:Raising money sucks. Sucks, sucks, sucks. That said, I don’t really know how one goes about it. So, Justin, how does one go about it?
J.K.: It does suck. I’d be a vote for campaign finance reform every step of the way. But it’s true this is the system we have, so we have to play by those rules.
As for the “how,” it’s just grinding. Calling people you know, people you don’t know emailing, holding fundraisers … ultimately this becomes the thing you do more than almost anything else when you’re running, which absolutely sucks. It also sucks that it’s what you do when you’re actually in office, too. It’s a damn shame, and it seems to only be getting worse. We absolutely need to fix it.
It would be a lot easier if I could just knock on big-dollar donors’ doors and say, “What do you need from me? I’m your guy,” and then just do what they tell me to do when I get in there like some people do. But I’m absolutely not going to do that. Donors looking for something in return shouldn’t even bother calling me. No amount of campaign donations is worth not being able to look my daughter in the face when I tuck her in at night, and know I did what I could to help the most Tennesseans. The most Americans.
Here’s the good news—Trump didn’t out-spend Hillary. Eric Cantor got beat by a guy with nowhere near as much money as he had. I think if you have a genuine message, and people really believe in what you’re saying, you can overcome that gap. Granted, I still need money to get the message out there, and I hope anyone who hears our conversation will kick in what they can, but what I’m mostly hoping is people will embrace this campaign as their own and give us their energy rather than their money. Don’t get me wrong, both is better! But we need their belief and their energy as much as anything else.
J.K.: Zev and I met at Camp Greylock in Becket, Massachusetts when we were both counselors. I had gone there as a camper for almost a decade. Zev’s cousin Greg was a good friend of mine, but Zev was younger than us. When we finally met, we hit it off immediately. Zev has Asperger’s Syndrome, which puts him on the autism spectrum, and one of the things about that is he doesn’t know when he’s not supposed to say stuff society frowns upon, which is at times awkward for people, but most of the time it’s genuinely hilarious. He’s literally the funniest guy i’ve ever met.
Funny makes for good TV. Zev knew our relationship was unique, and his favorite show was the Amazing Race, so he kept saying “We should go on the race.” He said this every day for four years. One thing about people on the spectrum, when they get something in their head it’s hard for them to let it go. So after four years of this, I finally said, “Find out when it is and we’ll apply” … figuring either we’ll get on or he’ll stop talking about this thing once and for all, so it was a win-win for me.
We made a video about our relationship, my dad shot it and I edited it and we sent it in, and I kinda thought, “You know, that actually was kind of interesting, who knows …” But then we didn’t hear anything for like five months. In the interim people kept telling Zev to get a job, and he kept going, “I can’t, we’re going on the race.” Sure enough, five months later, we get a call out of the blue to come in for final interviews. We went to a hotel with like 20 other teams, and other teams started disappearing, and the next thing we knew we were in.
It was an incredible experience, right up until I lost his passport in a monastery in Cambodia. Thankfully they brought us back a second time, because otherwise that would’ve been the other thing I never heard the end of!
J.P.:How do you convince people you’re not an outsider—when you’re an outsider? Because it’s an issue that has plagued MANY politicians who have resided in an area far longer than you’ve been in College Grove, Tennessee.
J.K.: It’s true that I didn’t grow up here, but my baby girl Kaia will. This is our home. My wife Nicole is a behavioral therapist for kids with autism and mental health issues in Rutherford County. We love this area and want to help it be the best it can be in every possible way.
By the time the election rolls around we’ll be working on our third year here. Some people may have an issue with that, and I get it, but what I’d say to those people is tell me what you think I need to know. So far what we’ve learned is people here genuinely care about one another, and they take care of their neighbors, and they’re guided by a love and mercy that I don’t see reflected in the things Marsha Blackburn stands for.
The word I keep hearing from people is “misrepresented.” Marsha talks a good game, but I don’t think the thing she stands for represents how the majority of the good people here feel, especially the youth. So what I’d say to anyone who is focused on that is this: Would you rather have someone who has been here longer but whose strings are being pulled by corporate puppet masters? Or someone with a new perspective who has a deep love for this community and would never sell it out under any circumstances?
And if you have concerns about me, come meet me. Email me—firstname.lastname@example.org is my email. I’ll be more accessible than Marsha has ever been in her life, and we’ll be doing an “Amazing Race Through The District” to hear from everyone in every county—counties Marsha has probably not been to in over a decade.
Yes, I’m the outsider in this equation. Trump was an outsider, too, running against an establishment candidate in Hillary. He preached a message of draining the swamp, getting rid of all the do-nothing politicians who fill their campaign accounts with corporate donation—that’s Marsha. In the end this isn’t just about me vs. Marsha, it’s about what kind of District they want this to be seen as.
J.P.:How do we convince skeptics that climate change is real? And is that an issue you can run on in a region that, again, doesn’t particularly seem to buy it?
J.K.: First of all, I think this is an issue that people are coming around on more and more, especially with the storms we’re seeing lately. I think deep down they know it’s common sense that what we’re putting into the environment is having an effect. Even the military will tell us that. Hell, even Exxon revealed that they’ve known it for 40 years.
Follow the money. It’s no coincidence that climate change deniers like Marsha get the most money from big oil. This is a long, sustained attack on reality that puts our children and our grandchildren at risk – and the kids know it. Almost every young voter I talk to on the trail tells me climate change is their biggest concern. They get it.
Ice caps are melting. Water’s rising. The planet is heating up. We have a choice: invest in America’s cheap, renewable energy economy now, or fall behind the rest of the world. Let’s not fall behind. This should not be a partisan issue. This is the future of our planet for our kids and our grandchildren.
This is also an economic issue. Clean energy is where the jobs are. There are far more solar jobs than coal now, including nearly 4,000 here in Tennessee. India will be selling only electric cars by 2030. China is heading that way too. The fact is the world is moving away from fossil fuels no matter what we choose to believe.
Meanwhile Marsha voted against a military study of climate change that had bipartisan support. Her record on the environment is abysmal. I wonder if support from people like the Kochs has anything to do with that?
As you’ll hear me say often, this isn’t about left vs. right, it’s about right vs. wrong. We need to stop letting carbon polluters dominate our public policy. I’m not willing to let my children and grandchildren’s futures be decided entirely by special interests and corporations who covered up what they knew for 40 years.
J.P.:In 1993 you played “Rob Lansing” in the Mel Gibson film, “The Man Without a Face.” OK, Justin. Do tell …
J.K.: My acting career began and ended with that movie. Mel was awesome. I don’t defend the things he said and did, but my experience with him couldn’t have been better. That’s really all I have to say about that. And Braveheart is still one of the greats.
J.P.:Why did you leave LA for Tennessee? I mean—the beaches, the Mexican food, the weather. What was the impetus? How big of an adjustment was it? What’s the biggest change?
J.K.: Southern California was good to us. I met my wife there. But the wholesomeness and community and people here in Middle Tennessee are amazing, and the quality of life is great. Our baby girl growing up around rolling green hills and cattle and parks and horses and festivals is everything we ever wanted for her. I can’t express enough how happy we are we did this. It was a big change, but a great one, and the people here could not have been more welcoming.
On multiple occasions I’ve had women come up to me at the store and take my child out of my arms uninvited, and I didn’t even want to call the cops! It’s that kind of place.
J.P.:You seem like a very optimistic dude. Which I love. I, on the other hand, am losing hope. Trump, greed, environment, unsustainable population growth, drought. On and on and on. Justin, why should we be optimistic when so much seems to be heading down the toilet?
J.K.: My optimism comes from the people I meet on the trail every single day. It comes from my conversations with my neighbor, a conservative who probably won’t vote for me, but who I’m able talk to about the things we disagree on. Granted, every day something new and awful seems to happen, and we need to stay awake and keep calling things out and pushing back, but I think there’s a sustainable energy in this country right now, and I’m confident that as long as we keep caring and keep doing everything we can to keep this country headed in a positive direction, ultimately we’ll be OK.
That’s why I’m running—because this is something I can do, and my daughter is worth it. I’m hopeful that just like Ossoff inspired me to do this, maybe there will be some younger people with a fresh perspective who’ll see what i’m doing and think to themselves, “Hey i can do that too.” It’s time for some fresh perspectives, people willing to go to Washington and put country over party, and people over profit, and say what needs to be said. That’s what I’m here to do. Not just on behalf of Democrats or Republicans.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JUSTIN KANEW:
• First three things you’d do if you win: Help support the push for universal health care, do everything I can to support the autism/disability community, help combat minority voter suppression, stop the over-criminalization of nonviolent drug offenders, push for paid family leave, expand veteran benefits however possible and be of service to them, get the wage raised to a living one, stop the fight against net neutrality, stop Marsha & co. from coming after Medicaid, Medicare and social security while pushing their trillion-dollar corporate tax cuts … is that three?
• One question you would ask the members of H-Town were they here right now?: “Is your family OK in Houston?”
• How did you propose to your wife?: On a show i used to do called “Let’s Get Digital!”—the video is on YouTube. Krayzie Bone from Bone Thugs N’ Harmony brought in the ring. Zev was there, as were our dogs, and her parents got to watch it all happen online. Pretty great moment.
• Four things the average person wouldn’t know about reality television: I can only speak for the Amazing Race: 1) The camera guys and sound guys who run around with all that equipment are the real heroes; 2) They can’t “make you look bad” if you don’t give them stuff to do it with; 3) Phil Keoghan is the best; 4) My wife forces me to watch the Bachelor and Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise. I swear
• Three all-time favorite political figures?: Lincoln, MLK, FDR.
• The world needs to know: What was it like working with Megan Boone on “Welcome to the Jungle”?: Megan is an awesome person who genuinely cares about the country and the world. Plus she has a great sense of humor, which is what made her such a great fit on Jungle. We had some world-class comedians there and she kept right up with them. She also wasn’t intimidated by Jean-Claude Van Damme at all, which was a plus. Or by Zev.
• What do your hands smell like in the morning?: Baby diapers.
• Greatest single line from any speech you’ve ever heard?: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” comes to mind.
So I’m an adjunct journalism professor at Chapman University, which means one night per week—Tuesdays, 7-thru-9:50—I teach sports writing.
Now, I don’t view sports writing as sports writing. What I mean is, I view sports writing as writing. So while we certainly spend a good amount of the semester focused upon athletics, we probably spend even more time focused upon words, paragraphs, phrases, approaches, ledes, etc. It’s writing within the sports prism.
Dating back to my time at Manhattanville College and Purchase College, I’ve wrapped classes with a funky final paper that involves a lengthy profile of someone interesting or famous or interesting and famous. To kick off the assignment, we always have … The Draft.
Yes, The Draft—my favorite of favorites. Basically, over the past few weeks I’ve lined up 13 friends/associates who are willing to be interviewed at length. Then, as was the case at tonight’s class, I have the students blindly pick numbers, 1-thru-13, from a hat. The lucky soul who gets No. 1 has the choice of any of the 13. No. 2 has the choice of the remaining 12. On and on and on.
Anyhow, you get the idea. So here’s how the 2017 Jeff Pearlman Draft went down …
• 1. Colin Gonzales, Kansas City Royals scout (Selected by Emily Watts): I didn’t see this one coming. Colin is a tremendous guy; we met when I wrote this piece on Bo Jackson. But he’s not a household name, and I wasn’t sure how my students would feel about a scout. Well, Emily happens to come from a family of Royals fans, and she immediately plucked Colin at No. 1.
• 2. Tommy Shaw, Styx singer/guitarist (Selected by Natalie Benson): I didn’t know where Tommy would go. Could have been first, could have been 13th—depending on the musical tastes of a class of a bunch of young adults. Natalie made a high-value selection here.
• 3.Jeremy Popoff, Lit guitarist (Selected by Tasha Rebensdorf): Reminds me of when Knicks drafted Mark Jackson out of St. John’s, in part because of local ties. Both Popoff and Tasha are Orange County products, leading to this match made in heaven.
• 4. Dave Coverly, cartoonist (Selected by Ryan Rusin): I saw Dave going seventh or eighth, just because surface pizzazz of a cartoonist probably doesn’t match rocker or pro athlete. Yet Ryan made a bolt pick here. Is this more Ricky Rubio or Jonny Flynn? Only time tells …
• 5. David Moscow, actor/producer (selected by Kristen Miloro): Very smart pick from the pride of Port Chester, N.Y. Almost all of my students recognized Moscow as young Tom Hanks from “Big,” and a couple shouted with glee when I mentioned he once dated Kerry Washington.
• 6. Margot Bingham, actress (Selected by Tori Menninger): First obvious steal of the evening. I had Bingham—the former “Boardwalk Empire” breakout—projected as a one or two overall, but questions about her 40 time led to a drop.
• 8. Kyle Brandt, Good Morning Football co-host (Selected by Trip Westmoreland): I’ve never had a bigger Dodgers fan for a student. World Series heartbreak offset by strong No. 8 pick. Expect Real World stories galore …
• 10. Anne Byrn, superstar food writer (Selected by Lindsay Gillman): Lindsay was a little torn between Ann and Ellis Valentine. “Do you like food?” I asked. She nodded—and picked up Anne.
• 11. Ellis Valentine, former Major League All-Star (Selected by Natasha Kervick): Ellis is one of the planet’s best people, but this was a shocker. A. Because Natasha nearly leapt from her seat when I mentioned I had a water polo star; B. Because I’m not sure if five of my students know the Expos were a team.
• 12. Cody Decker, professional baseball player (Selected by Jacob Hutchinson): Probably would have been my pick at No. 1, just because I love the sagas of athletes fighting the good fight. Plus, he’s a Jewish baseball player. I’m a sucker for those dudes.
• 13. Meggie Steffens, Olympic water polo player (Selected by Jade Boren): Only in this strong of a pool can a two-time Olympian and America’s best water polo player go last. I actually think her contemporary status scared some off.
Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.