Jeff Pearlman

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Britni de la Cretaz

#416
This former social worker made the unorthodox career leap toward journalism, then devoted herself to examining the intersection of sports and gender. The result: One of America's most fascinating scribes. POSTED July 26, 2019

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There are more established sports journalists than Britni de la Cretaz.

There are more famous sports journalists than Britni de la Cretaz.

But as I sit here, writing inside a Starbucks on a July afternoon in 2019, I’m not sure there’s a more fascinating sports journalist than Britni de la Cretaz. I first came to the realization a bunch of weeks ago, when I sent out a somewhat, um, ill-advised Tweet about the WNBA and coverage of the league. It was a lazily thought-out message, one that was (rightly) attacked by myriad scribes. But my exchange with Britni was just, well, inspired. She’s smart, empathetic, engaged, willing to see multiple sides to an issue.

Plus, I then began to read her work, which is pretty damn terrific. In particular, there was this Ringer piece on women in sports broadcasting. And this one on the NBA and women referees. And this one on Serena. Anyhow, you can see her catalogue here—a goldmine of thought-provoking work.

One can follow Britni on Twitter here, and visit her website here.

Britni de la Cretaz, you are The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Britni, you went from social worker to journalism. As a journalist married to a social worker, this fascinates me. Why the career shift?

BRITNI DE LA CRETAZ: I always wrote as a hobby, and had a blog for years. It was never something I thought I could make a career out of. I’d gone to school to be a mental health counselor, which is how I ended up doing social work. But I got pushed out of my job while on maternity leave with my oldest child about five years ago; I was trying to find ways to budget for our one-income household when a friend of mine who was an editor at a small women’s website messaged me to say she’d read my blog and thought I was good and did I want to be paid to write? I said hell yeah and started writing personal essays because I could do that without having any clips or experience. I used those clips to begin pitching reported essays and, eventually, settled into journalism. I consider it the career I always wanted but had no idea how to get, so I’m actually grateful for the shitty circumstances that pushed me here.

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J.P.: You wrote a lengthy piece for Dig Boston headlined, BOSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM about Boston sports and racism. And I’ve interviewed many people through the years who say, “Yeah, it used to be bad. But Boston’s very enlightened these days.” Is there any truth to that, or is the legacy of racism also the present situation of racism?

B.C.: I don’t think the racism has gone away, so much as it’s changed shape. It’s not as acceptable to be openly racist anymore, so the way white people express their racist beliefs has shifted. I also don’t think you can separate the current climate around Boston sports from its history; especially not when there are people still living who remember a time before the team was integrated. With the Red Sox in particular, we can applaud them for renaming Yawkey Way and for starting their Take the Lead anti-racism initiative, but they still chose to have their team visit the Trump White House, which created a racial divide in the clubhouse whether anyone wants to admit it or not. The racial slur hurled at Adam Jones at Fenway was only two years ago; the racial slur from a fan in the stands about the national anthem singer was the same week. Sports radio in the Hub is still a cesspool of offensive commentary. So it hasn’t changed as much as white people like to tell ourselves it has.

J.P.: So we were recently part of a lengthy Twitter exchange, involving many women reporters, about The Athletic and WNBA coverage. The site, to its credit, is covering the league, and all the beat writers are women. Which is dandy. But my point/concern is that too often sites, magazines, newspapers view women’s sports as a place to dump women writers and check off the OK, WE TOOK CARE OF THAT box. This was not received well. So … am I wrong? Is my concern stupid?

B.C.: I don’t think you are wrong about this generally, but I do think you are wrong in this instance. It’s definitely worth asking what beats and assignments women writers are being given (or denied). That’s real. But what’s also real is that a) it’s important to have women telling women’s stories and b) many women want to write about the WNBA or women’s sports. So it’s worth asking these women how they felt about the beat — and I think it’s problematic to essentially frame a job that these women worked incredibly hard for and are excited about as a consolation prize, of sorts. There’s a time and place for the conversation, but perhaps it’s not right after the first-ever team of WNBA beat writers is assembled, all of whom are women. Let’s celebrate before we critique in that case.

J.P.: You focus on the intersection of sports and gender, so here’s a question I’ve been thinking about often of late: What will have to happen for Becky Hammon to get a job as an NBA head coach? And what, do you think, will she confront?

B.C.: In order for Becky Hammon to get a head coaching job, a team is going to have to decide to give her one. It’s really that simple. If there’s a men’s league that was going to do it, the NBA seems the likeliest to me. What will she confront? Probably the same bullshit she’s been confronting her whole career and that any woman in a male-dominated field faces. But in Becky’s case, she’s been in the league long enough that she’s a known entity and most of the players and coaches respect her. I think she’d be likelier to face blowback from fans and potentially some media than she would be from players at this point in her career (though maybe that’s naive of me to say). I do think that what often happens when a woman breaks a barrier is that there’s a slew of news coverage of her as “the first,” the stories only want to focus on the barrier-breaking, and then the media loses interest in anyone else who comes after. So the first is a huge accomplishment, of course, but just as important is “the next.”

J.P.: How did this happen for you? The writing bug? When did you first realize you were good at it? That, just maybe, you could make a career of it?

B.C.: I always really liked writing papers in school and I always loved reading books. In college, I was compelled to write in that way that was popular on the internet at the time: overly confessional blog posts. I was an anonymous girl in my early 20s writing about my relationships and partying, but something that blogging did was teach me how to write for an audience, how to tell stories, how to write something compelling that people want to read. That blog had a pretty decent following at the time, which gave me the confidence to think that maybe people actually wanted to read what I had to say. I’ve grown up a lot since then, obviously, and my sobriety (almost 8 years now) has been a big part in finding a new writing voice that wasn’t snarky and a little mean, which my early writing was. But I honestly never considered that I could make a career out of it until someone else offered to connect me to an editor she knew who might like one of my essays. I thought you had to have formal training in order to do this for a living, and I’d never taken a real writing class in my life. I’m totally self-taught. But once I started publishing stuff and learning about how to find and pitch and sell stories, I realized that I was really good at it (the pitching more so than the writing, but I guess I’m ok at the latter). It still doesn’t quite feel real that I’ve managed to make a career out of it, though.

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J.P.: I know, in many ways, this question sucks, and it doesn’t matter, and all that. But, again with your expertise, I sorta wanna ask it: Does there come a day when a woman plays in the Majors or the NBA or NHL? Not as a stunt, a la Manon Rhéaume. But where someone comes along, and she’s so preposterously strong, quick, athletic that it happens?

B.C.: I think it could happen (look at Brianna Decker winning the NHL All-Star passing competition this year, or the women who have played independent league baseball). What I think would make it more likely is if sex segregation in sports was done away with altogether and there were co-ed teams. Last year I interviewed Nancy Leong, who has done research about this, and I should probably just recommend you read that interview because she’s smarter than I am.

J.P.: You were a social worker, which means you work cheap and have empathy. And it feels like, in 2019, we’ve never been a less empathetic nation. Do you feel like something has changed us? The president? Social media? Or are we who we’ve always been?

B.C.: I think we are who we have always been, but social media and globalization has amplified those traits and allowed us to connect with people beyond our own communities in ways that highlight some of our uglier traits.

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J.P.: Greatest moment from your life? Lowest?

B.C.: The greatest moment(s) of my life were when I met my two daughters for the first time: my oldest in 2014 and my youngest in 2016. My lowest was definitely the day I checked into rehab.

J.P.: You identify on your website as a Red Sox and Marlins fan. And I say this with 100% respect—why is that OK? Because it does seem like, in this era, it has become OK. We’re sports journalists. Aren’t we supposed to not have leanings?

B.C.: Here’s how I feel about it: I’m not a beat writer, and I’d feel differently about it if I was. I also think we can critique the things we love, and sometimes we critique things because we love them (my aforementioned story about the Red Sox and Boston’s history of racism is an example of this).

J.P.: What’s your money journalism story? The craziest, weirdest experience from your career?

B.C.: It’s not a great story, but it’s definitely the weirdest/worst experience, and it was when a source asked me to send him nude photos of myself.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BRITNI DE LA CRETAZ:

• Typing your name out is giving me all sorts of trouble. What are the most common butcherings of it?: Pretty sure my byline reads “Britni de la Cruz” and a couple places. Also Britini is a common misspelling of my first name.

• Five all-time favorite women’s basketball players?: Rebecca Lobo, Cappie Pondexter, Dawn Staley, Sue Bird, Courtney Williams

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Chuck D, potato salad, “Waterfalls” by TLC, the Whopper without pickles, Isabelle Kohn, Facebook, Justin Amash, Jennie Finch, Colorado State University, toe rings, Kaira Rouda: Jennie Finch, Isabelle Kohn, toe rings, Chuck D, Waterfalls, potato salad, Kaira Rouda, Colorado State University, Justin Amash, Whopper without pickles, Facebook.

• One question you would ask Steve Finley were he here right now?: Best NL West team to play for?

• Three things you usually keep with you: A keychain with my sobriety date on it (11/4/11), a notebook and pen (I’m a journalist, after all), my phone.

• What are the keys to making the perfect milkshake?: I scooped ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s for a summer and there’s really not much to it besides adding ice cream and milk. When I was growing up, my dad used to scoop extra sugar into it.

• Greatest athletic accomplishment of your life?: I was a competitive cheerleader and my five-person stunt group (I was the flyer) were national champions in the individual stunt competition.

• In three words, describe the pain associated with birthing a child: Get an epidural.

• The next president will be …: Anyone but Donald Trump, please.

• I don’t love wearing deodorant. Is that a problem?: Your body, your choice, friend.

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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.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life