Jeff Pearlman

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Paul O’Brien

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Paul O’Brien is an openly gay Christian conservative. Which strikes me akin to being both the Dallas Cowboys’ star quarterback and a man opposed to the sport of football.

Or, to be more precise, I’m just sorta baffled. I mean, as a whole Christian conservatives seem to be very outspoken against homosexuality. It’s a group of people who brought us this guy. And this guy. And, ugh, this guy.

And yet … when I reached out to Paul, told him I leaned hard liberal and asked whether (despite that) he’d be up for a Quaz, he didn’t flinch or think twice. Which I admire in a huge way. See, we’re living in an age of loudmouth cowardice from all sides of politics. Go to Twitter and look around. The vast majority of ranters, screamers, insulters hide behind fake names and fake images. They’re tough guys sans repercussions. Which means, in fact, they’re as soft as supermarket tissue.

Not Paul.

He exists on Facebook as “The Gay Trumpocat,” and while I share exactly, oh, zero beliefs with the man, he refuses to flinch or hide. Hell, he’s even written and published a pair of books (The United Resistance of America) and From Clinton to Trump, A Gay Christian’s Shift From the Left to the Right) that confirm his outlooks on life.

Paul O’Brien, I hope Trump gets impeached yesterday.

Now welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Paul, you’re a gay Christian conservative. Which in and of itself is quite interesting, considering the church’s view that homosexuality is a sin. Basic question—but how do you accept this? I mean, aren’t you a believer in a religion that—in a sense—doesn’t believe in you?

PAUL O’BRIEN: As a Christian, and the son of a preacher, I learned a long time ago what was in the Bible and was told to interpret it myself. I don’t listen to what others believe scripture means because it is written that we should read for ourselves. Old Testament is the only book in the Bible that speaks negatively on the subject of homosexuality, but the Old Testament was written for Jews and not Gentiles. So in terms of Christianity and homosexuality I look to New Testament and what Christ said. I never found anything negative from him regarding gays. But I also came to terms with something. I believe that anyone who has sex outside marriage is committing the sin of adultery, including straight and gay people. All sins are forgivable and luckily I believe in gay marriage so therefore I don’t believe it is a sin to be intimate with your husband/wife. I don’t believe being gay is a sin as I was born this way, which means God made me the way I am. And luckily for me, I have surrounded myself with Christians who have never judged me, including my father. I believe the old school era of Christians preaching fire and brimstone are dying out. More and more churches are accepting of gays, which is fantastic.

J.P.: Along those lines, you posted glowingly about Karen Handel, who won the Georgia congressional race. Handel is an outspoken opponent of gay adoption; she literally does not believe gay couples should be allowed to raise children; that they are not morally fit to do so. How can you hear that and, as a gay man, support someone with such beliefs?

P.O.: Yes, I am very happy that Karen Handel won the race, making her the first GOP woman to represent Georgia in Congress. In terms of how she feels about gays adopting, I gave up on the belief that everyone would share my views on everything. If they disagree with me regarding adoption, that is their right as an American. That might be the one political view I don’t agree with Handel on, but I’m not a single issue voter so it helps that many of her views I do share. But in terms of supporting someone who has a belief I don’t agree with, I would say that taking money from people who slaughter gays and proposing an immigration increase of those people concerns me more than her opinion regarding adoption. I’d rather have someone disagree with me regarding raising a child than someone funded by people who want me dead.

Some of the image selection from Paul's Facebook page.

Some of the image selection from Paul’s Facebook page.

J.P.: You backed Hillary Clinton in 2008. Now, clearly, you’re not a fan. What changed? How did your thinking change?

P.O.: I was a massive supporter of Hillary and Bill Clinton. I look back on that time now and the one things that comes to mind is something my hero Andrew Breitbart said about himself. Default liberal. I was a default liberal because I believed everything I heard via the media. It wasn’t until I began doing research for a book I was writing about Hillary that I began learning things I never knew. I learned about her taking millions from men who slaughter gays and oppress women while claiming to be a champion for women and gays. I learned that the people of Haiti hate her and accuse her of stealing from them. I heard her laugh when recalling a rape case where she represented the rapist of a 12 year-old girl who was beaten and put into a coma, left infertile from her injuries [Writer’s note: Snopes largely disagrees with this take]. I learned that she blamed the victim, something she could not do now thanks to rape shield laws, telling her that she asked for it and that she fantasized about older men. Then I started learning of her dishonesty. She could not seem to tell the truth regarding anything. Whether it be landing under sniper fire in Bosnia, the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, destroying evidence after a subpoena was issued, lying to the American public about her email server, etc.

But the final straw for me was the Orlando terrorist attack. I listened to her pander to Muslims as if they had been attacked while preaching down to the LGBT community about “embracing and protecting” Muslims. She claimed we didn’t even know the motive of the attack despite 911 calls and witnesses revealing the motive. Then I heard Donald Trump, the so-called homophobe, speak and he condemned not just the attack, but Sharia law and the slaughter of gays. He vowed to protect the LGBT community, encouraging Republicans to defend my community. So I began researching him, which led to my first published book From Clinton to Trump.

J.P.: I’m gonna be honest—I view Donald Trump as nothing but a conman. If you look at his life, from discriminatory housing to Atlantic City ugliness to ruining the USFL to the scores of unpaid contractors; if you look at his charity (to which he never donated any of his own money) and his history of greed and narcissism … I just view him as everything ugly in America. So … what do you see? What am I missing?

P.O.: I remind you to look back and see how different things were 30-to-40 years ago. In the housing case you cited, I recall over 100 real estate companies being sued for discriminatory housing. Donald Trump was the only one who fought the case. It is also important to remember it was not Donald Trump sitting in an office, turning down minority tenants. The people he hired to do the job did this. But then I learned Trump’s company actually did house minorities… the scandal was that they were housed separately from other tenants. Now in terms of charity, I find it hard to believe that he never donated his own money. I recall how popular he was in the gay community back when I was living in Connecticut, only an hour’s drive from New York City. He was often featured in Advocate magazine where he was praised for his donations to Gay Mens Health Crisis and various HIV/AIDS charities. Then I see him being awarded for his work with the African American community with Rosa Parks, Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton praising him. So in terms of his charities, I don’t see it the same way you do. As for greed and narcissism, I have met many with those traits. Human beings are not perfect. I see those traits in almost every celebrity in movies, on television and on the cover of magazines. But I support someone based on policy and it just so happens that I agree with the policies Donald Trump has put forward.

J.P.: I know you’re gay, I know you’re 37, I know you work as an author and paralegal. But … what’s your story? Where are you from? How did you get interested in politics?

P.O.: I was actually the son of an Air Force veteran so I was born on a military base in Washington. My family moved to Turkey when I was five and then to the UK a few years later. My father retired and the family moved to Tennessee, which is where he was from. I didn’t like it so I moved in with my brother who was also in the Air Force, living in both New Mexico and California. When I turned 18 I moved to Connecticut and I lived there until I was 22 before moving back to Tennessee to be closer to my parents. I actually got into politics back in 2008 when Hillary Clinton ran. I was one of the only Clinton supporters in the town I live in. When she dropped out I lost interest. I hadn’t ever heard of Obama and he didn’t interest me. Same with McCain. I did like Sarah Palin’s spunk and I remember thinking she was being treated differently than Hillary had. This was probably what got me noticing things I hadn’t paid much attention to before. I watched as celebrities like Kathy Griffin attacked Palin and her children relentlessly, but saw a rodeo clown fired for impersonating Obama. The double standards was showing up everywhere. I had always been told that the GOP was anti-gay, racist, sexist, etc. But I knew this wasn’t true because my father, my brother, my sisters and my in-laws were all Republican. I started paying more attention to politics then and by 2016, as I was doing research on Clinton for my book, I became obsessed with politics.

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J.P.: I used to live in Tennessee. It’s not the most progressive (LGBT-wise) state around. What was your path, coming out? How did you do it? When did you first know you were gay? How did your family react?

P.O.: I always knew I was gay deep down, but I hid it so deep down that no one would ever guess. I dated women and was even engaged to get married when I was 20. Then I met my first partner, who I was with for 10 years, and that was what gave me the courage to come out. I was living in Connecticut, which is a pretty openminded state, so the first person I told was my sister. She was fine with it and so was my family. Now I cannot speak for all of Tennessee, but I can tell you that West Tennessee is actually very openminded. As I discussed earlier, more and more churches are accepting of gays now. So I didn’t experience the anti-gay rhetoric that someone may have back in the 1970s or 80s. Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville had many gay bars and clubs so if I wanted to be around gays I didn’t have to look far.

J.P.: I hate your Facebook page. I mean no offense, but I hate it. You source bullshit websites that don’t report; so much of it is snarky, rude, cruel; one of your go-tos is Infowars—the same place that said Sandy Hook was a hoax. Paul, I just don’t get it. Why can’t we have real political dialogue, where you have a stance, I have a stance and we agree or disagree? With civility. With dignity. Why has it come to this?

P.O.: I would say the same about sites that you may like. I dislike CNN, MSNBC and I detest Huffington Post. I read articles like If You Don’t Vote Democrat, Fuck You or Otto Just Found Out His White Privilege Doesn’t Work Outside America [JEFF NOTE: Close enough on the headlines] and I cringe. I enjoy Breitbart, Drudge Report,and even Infowars because they cover stories the mainstream media won’t. Do I agree with everything they write? No, but then I wouldn’t agree with everything liberal media writes either.

As far as Sandy Hook, I lived in Connecticut and one of my friends went to college with the mother of a child killed. So I never bought into any conspiracy theories regarding it being a hoax. What I did hear about, and believe could be true, was that crisis actors may have been used by the government and the media to take advantage of the tragedies to influence gun laws. There are websites, videos and articles discussing men and women who seem to appear in every tragedy like Sandy Hook, Boston, Orlando, etc. Now as far as taking a political stance and agreeing or disagreeing, I do that every day. I don’t believe my taste in media reflects the opposite of that. But as strongly as you feel about Infowars, I feel about CNN, who was caught rigging a debate in favor of one candidate, or New York Times, who our own intelligence called out as fake news. People get their news from sources they like. The reason for that is tone. A conservative like me would never watch Morning Joe, The View or Rachel Maddow because their tone when discussing politics is a sneering, looking down at me kind of way. Just like you would never watch Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, or Infowars. My webpage carries my own articles, as does Southern Sky Site, but it also carries videos, memes and articles that friends of mine might not see.

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J.P.: You recently wrote, “Sad to hear Sheriff David Clarke has turned down a position in Homeland Security. Our country would benefit from a patriot who puts America 1st over the globalists & 1%.” I’ve followed Clarke’s career closely, and I just don’t see it. Patriot? The guy was sheriff when an inmate named Terrill Thomas was denied water for a week—then died in jail. Three other inmates also died in jail for similar circumstances. The list is long. So … what do you like about him?

P.O.: I love David Clarke. I first noticed him when he shamed Don Lemon, who I detest, over Black Lives Matter after the shootings of Dallas police officers last summer. He is blunt, loud and I share a lot of the same views as him. Plus he looks a lot like my brother-in-law. And, yes, he is a patriot. He is not about illegal immigrants or refugees. He is about Americans first. That means our veterans, our elderly, our disabled, our children, etc. He and Larry Elder are two men who receive so much hate from the left because they are proud black men who don’t share the same opinion as a majority. That is brave to me. It takes a lot of courage to stand up and say something you know many will disagree with. As far as the people who died in his jail, I am not familiar with those cases so I can’t comment, but if you’re telling me he personally ordered these inmates to be denied water why weren’t charges pressed against him? [JEFF’s NOTE: Answers—we have answers].

J.P.: This is weird to ask you, but if you were advising the Democrats, what would you tell them? Being serious—they’re obviously floundering right now. What are they doing wrong?

P.O.: Stop trying to be the PC police. Stop relying on celebrities to spread your message (if you have one) because next to the media, Hollywood celebrities annoy people the most when they preach politics. It’s easy for them to talk about accepting refugees and illegal immigrants when they’ll never be around them because they live in mansions behind gates and security guards. Fact is that a lot of Americans are unhappy because there aren’t enough jobs for the people already here, but Democrats seem to want open borders. The Democrats have relied on identity politics and most important, they have not condemned the violence that has pushed openminded Democrats away from the DNC. Condemn Antifa. Condemn Black Lives Matter. They wanted Donald Trump to disavow David Duke and the KKK even though it was Hillary Clinton who received an endorsement and a donation from the California chapter of the KKK, so why can’t they? [JEFF’S NOTE: Read here]. And for God’s sake stop talking about Russia. No one cares! Even Democratic strategists keep telling them no voter is asking about Russia at the town halls they attend.

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• Five all-time favorite political figures: Winston Churchill, Abe Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Sandy Koufax, Brietbart, John Cena, Amari Cooper, “Batman and Robin,” Nashville, Bobby Brown, the color blue, Sean Hannity, lemonade, Milk Duds: Nashville, color blue, lemonade, Milk Duds, Sean Hannity, Breitbart, Bobby Brown, John Cena, Batman and Robin, Amari Cooper, Sandy Koufax. (last two are cuz I am not familiar with the names)

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Freddie Prinze, Jr.? What’s the result?: I outweigh him so I think he could probably knock me out if he tired me out. Result would be a TKO or a decision.

• What happens after we die?: Our bodies die, but our souls—which is our energy/personality—transcends to another realm. What that realm is I don’t know. It could be Heaven, it could be a spaceship full of aliens, but I don’t believe when our body dies everything just goes black.

• How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?: I know a girl who did it in 20 but she had a strong tongue lol.

• What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?: Trainwreck

• Five reasons one should make Tennessee his/her next vacation destination: Dollywood, Smoky Mountains, Graceland, Grand Old Opry, and Tennessee River

• What do you imagine Donald Trump’s hair smells like?: Tangerines

• Can you say three nice things about Barack Obama?: He was so likeable that people liked him even when his policies sucked. He would be fun to have a beer with. He took Trump’s election maturely.

• One question you would ask Kent Hrbek were he here right now?: Who are you?


Paul Kuharsky


“I’m sad, but also excited for the next chapter of my life.”

See that quote? The one directly above these words? Well, I’ve heard it uttered and seen it written a solid 200 times over the past year. It always comes after massive journalism layoffs; written by shellshocked reporters and editors kicked to the curb by outlets hemorrhaging money and readership.

Although the language projects optimism, it always bums me out. It’s one thing to be 22 … 23 … 24 and on the job market. You’re young, you’re cheap, you’re eager. But what if you’re a laid-off journalist in your 40s, 50s, 60s? You have kids in college, a mortgage, car payments? You were making $100k, $150k. Now, suddenly, pfft. What do you do?

Five months ago, when ESPN cut loose hundreds of staffers, the ol’ “I’m sad, but also excited for the next chapter of my life” overloaded my Facebook and Twitter feeds. It was crushing and heartbreaking, and I wondered how some of my friends in the business would survive.

Then, from the ashes, rose Paul Kuharsky.

Paul and I date back to our days at The (Nashville) Tennessean, and I’ve long known him to be one of America’s best football scribes. He also happens to be incredibly resilient. So after ESPN failed to renew his contract, Paul turned innovative, devoting himself to his own eponymous website. There, for various subscription rates, one can receive Paul’s as-good-as-it-gets Titans and league coverage. It’s called: Reinvention.

Today, Paul talks about making a career transition; about the death of newspaper, the evil of Gannett, the love of Pacman Jones and dislike of a particular Bruce Springsteen song. One can visit his website here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Paul Kuharshy, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Paul, I’m gonna start with the shittiest one. You covered the Tennessee Titans for for nine years—then in April you were laid off. I’m interested in how you received the news and how you digested it. Were you at all expecting it? Were you (are you) bitter? Resigned? Accepting? I guess, in short, what did it feel like and how did you take it?

PAUL KUHARSKY: I’m mostly over it. There was a stretch where a lot of us thought it was coming, but then I kind of thought I’d made it. Dumb by me. I don’t know that the distinction is that important, but I wasn’t laid off, my contract wasn’t renewed. So that date was three months out and they were required to exercise the final year of the deal by that deadline or to notify me they wouldn’t. I didn’t take it well, initially. It would have been good for me to start running again right then, I’d be way healthier and skinner now and it would have been good for venting. The people who were instrumental in me getting to ESPN nine years earlier are all now in different areas and I reached out to each shortly after that to thank them and tell them I hoped that I had done right by them with my role in the start of ESPN’s NFL Nation as an eight- and then a 32-person NFL coverage team. I hope I did.

J.P.: Is beat writing (the way we once thought of it) dead and buried? You’re a kid at Vanderbilt or Syracuse or Delaware, your goal is to “cover” a team for a newspaper or website. Is that still a worthwhile and realistic pursuit?

P.K.: Or Columbia! Gut reaction is no. Given a minute I’d say yes, but only as a short-term stepping-stone. I think there is still a need for a nuts-and-bolts person covering any team of note. That would be ideal – an outside party doing its best as a modern version of the first draft of a franchise’s ongoing history. I think a kid coming out today could do a couple years of that on a college and then on a pro team and it would really help form him as a reporter. My belief is in part because all the spinning off of news has to have news to spin off of. So that is a key cog in the whole machinery still. And all those kids have to have at least some of that to build off if they want people to care what they think about those developments and if they want us to trust they can tell us what they mean. Also, there is an important layer of news/information below the big stuff that the national reporters get that those high-ranking reporters are not interested in that is still important to fans. Not the quarterback news, but the backup quarterback news. Still, if I’m a kid at one of those fine schools, I’d be scared to death of the business while aspiring to a role like yours at The Athletic or mine, in a new venture, where analysis and opinion are paramount.

Paul (right) with Mike Mularkey.

Paul (right) with Mike Mularkey.

J.P.: You and I are both purveyors of our own websites—only yours charges people for direct coverage of the Titans and the NFL. I have a bunch of questions on this, but I’ll start with the basic: When did this idea come to you? When did you decide, yes, I’m going to do it? And what’s the risk-reward ratio?

P.K.: Well it was one of many ideas that came to me as I anticipated the void in my life post-ESPN. I am super-fortunate as I have a full-time radio job, co-hosting The Midday 180 in Nashville on 104.5 The Zone with Jonathan Hutton and Chad Withrow. But I’m a reporter and writer first, and my radio presence wouldn’t be as good without doing that too. I’ve got great relationships with the team and an institutional knowledge of the franchise since it relocated to Nashville. So many readers said, “Please tell me you’re still going to be out there asking the tough questions.” And I felt like there would be a void without me doing that and that I still wanted to find a way to serve that audience with observations and analysis, which I enjoy writing. I spoke with a lot of smart people who said they thought I was a Nashville brand that would sell. (When something was written in the local weekly about me being a brand, my friend Sara Walsh, also formerly of ESPN, said she couldn’t wait until I put out jeans.)  I looked hard at Patreon, which is kind of a Kickstarter for content creators. That’s where I started to think about tiers and what I could provide. Ultimately, I came to think that site is better for a person starting out than for someone who already has an audience. And Patreon takes 10 percent. So smart friends and friends of friends encouraged me to try it. My radio job and my wife’s job meant we had some time to build. I’m hardly first – is really good, you know first-hand that the Athletic is taking off, Greg Bedard has a large-scale site in Boston Sports Journal. I’m smaller and more personality driven. So many people in Nashville hate the paper and hate ESPN, I thought at least a small club knows the quality it wants can no longer come for free, I can be bottled water for Titans fans. The risk is not enough people are willing to pay. But I sold out the crazy top tier, a Starting 22, in two days. And memberships have sold consistently. Six weeks in I couldn’t have predicted better, I’m already in line to make about what I would have with the one real outside offer I had. The free Periscopes/Facebook Lives are packed and the private ones seem to be a lure. The reward is a guy who never had any ambition to have his own company launches a successful site, connects with his readers in a new way and can have a great stage of his career while writing what he wants and fielding zero calls from a print boss.

J.P.: So, soup to nuts, how does one start a pay site? I’m being very literal. You hire a designer? You figure out a pay level? What? And then what? And then what?

P.K.: I had long discussions with my radio station, which didn’t want me to have to stop writing and was really great about working together to reach the point where I got a green light. I commissioned logos from Thomas Cox, a listener who’s really talented. I hired a great web guy, Brent Peacher, who’s done mostly music-related sites and seems to really have enjoyed a venture into sports, even if I can and email him far too much. He totally connected with me on what I sketched out, and I love the look and the feel he designed. I had the forms filed to create an LLC. I opened a business account. I miraculous found a travel sponsor – thanks MDI Construction. I learned a lot about PayPal. I lucked into a great agreement on photos out of home games. We started too late to be able to have a three-day preview or something short at the beginning. So I wrote for three weeks on a version 1.0 site that didn’t charge hoping to get people hooked while he developed things and I finalized the plans. Then we flipped the switch and crossed our fingers. Right now I am having meetings with people who can help me sell and manage the unobtrusive advertising the site will include.

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J.P.: You’ve been covering the NFL and the Titans for a long time. And here’s something I don’t get, and I mean no disrespect: How do you still give a shit? I mean, the names change, the uniforms might add elements every so often … but the storylines and narratives generally stick. Over and over again. Rookie free agent’s fight. Veteran holding on. Good-looking young quarterback. Fresh start veteran. Coach on the hot seat. Following the GM thru draft prep. The kicker’s insecurity. The local kid from Nashville. How are you not over it?

P.K.: Oh, I am over it. I don’t give a shit about a lot of that. That’s kind of the beauty of this, in my 21st year tracking this team. (And there were two stretches when I wasn’t tracking the Titans day-to-day: One where I did enterprise at The Tennessean and one where I covered the whole AFC South for ESPN.) But that’s another thing I am selling. You like my work and trust me, I’m going to write about what I care about. That’s what a member gets. And the rookie free-agent’s fight, the local kid from Nashville, you can get that somewhere else. I’m not saying I can completely avoid the predictable, but I’ll sure as hell try. And you know this Jeff, if you’ve got a good eye, you always spot something that gets your interest and takes you somewhere that is somehow different. Recently I asked a bunch of guys, Who in the league is most like you?” And those answers were interesting to me, and I don’t recall ever doing that as a survey article or post before. Again, I seek to serve a small, devoted club that has a big interest in the angles I come up with, the things I think are important and the opinions I have on this team, the league and whatever else I may see fit to write about. Hell, they are interested in how some of this stuff works, which seems dull and uninteresting to you and I but is well-read when I delve into it – like a piece about how to absorb a national guy’s thoughts on the team from his short training camp visit or another one delving into why readers have trouble believing reporters don’t root.

J.P.: In a recent Nashville Scene profile you said, “The thing that held me back to any degree over the last nine years was ESPN. I mean, you know there’s just certain things understandably that they didn’t want you to do or to say. I wasn’t allowed to be a media critic at ESPN, so I couldn’t tell you that I thought The Tennessean was terrible.” I am always very reluctant to bash peers in the media—especially peers in print, where everyone is drowning. So what is your beef with The Tennessean and its Titans coverage? And how much do you chalk up to a paper not hiring good writer-reporters, and how much do you chalk up just to a dying industry with limited funds?

P.K.: Well, we need to reset that. I was answering a question about whether working for 104.5 The Zone, which is the Titans’ flagship, could hold me back from sharing my true thoughts. I said no, that never has been a factor. But here is an area (critiquing the media) where ESPN, understandably, didn’t want us to go. I had great freedom as ESPN in most other areas. Also, I am not buying that you are so gracious to the print business. You authored “The Tennessean goes to hell” on June 30, 2011 and on Dec. 20, 2016 you said to the paper, “I am ashamed of you. Truly ashamed.” So we could easily spin that question and ask what’s your beef with The Tennessean, right? Mine is that, after the supremely-gifted beat writer Jim Wyatt left to go write for the team, it made no effort to hire a replacement with the slimmest chance at providing what my friend Jim had for a long, long time. It had one of the best beat writers in the country, who hardly got beat on anything even as the landscape moved more and more to national guys being fed everything, and the paper was not compelled, at all, to try to continue that. The Tennessean wants to have a star on the beat who has a billboard of his face on the side of the building. So it tries to create one but does so with someone with nothing close to a resume that warrants the fanfare. The people running the paper have no idea what a beat person should be doing. None. It’s a shame because the city deserves better. But over in their building they throw self-congratulatory cupcake parties. They actually think they are killing it! And he wins APSE awards because he can write a little and his sports editor is an APSE guy who spends all his capital to help his guy win, and to them that is the same as winning on the beat. Wrong target.

With Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk at Jerry Jones' Hall of Fame party.

With Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk at Jerry Jones’ Hall of Fame party.

J.P.: Along those lines, you and I both worked for The Tennessean back when it was still a strong product. I left the company and the city. You’re an up-close observer to its decline. What is that like for you? When did you first think, “Shit, this ship is sinking?” Does it bring any pain, watching this happen? Is there any remote hope of salvation?

P.K.: No hope as long as it’s Gannett, and it’ll always be Gannett, don’t you think? I certainly have a fondness for the place in our era. I spent 12 good years there and it really let me discover myself as a writer and reporter and make incredible friends. The downfall started as the editors got worse or the good ones got shoved into jobs with lesser influence. They have tough jobs because Gannett headquarters just wants them to be able to check all sorts of boxes that have nothing to do with creating quality content. The sort of smart people who were once newspaper editors aren’t going into the business anymore, and we all know why. It’s thankless. It pays poorly. You get to be called fake news constantly. You don’t have nearly as many smart and clever reporters under you because those people are also now finding different careers. I still have a few close friends there and I love them and I feel terribly for them. But never mind those of us who left for new jobs — they chose to let John Glennon go, they nudged David Climer toward retirement. And they’ve kept and hired people who are far less worthy than those guys, who I count as good friends. There are two people in sports worth reading now: Joe Rexrode, a quality columnist, and Adam Vingan on the Predators.

J.P.: Your site has pay levels. Meaning for $6 a month one gets basic coverage and for $100 a month one gets to attend four yearly gatherings, one gets to play golf (or something) with you, one gets your cell number to fire off texts and such. Which strikes me as both brilliant and weird. Well, potentially weird in the “Hey, Paul, what are you doing? Nothing! Great. I’m standing outside your house licking your dog.” What are you actually offering for the big bucks? How’s it going? And do you at all worry about folks crossing a line?

P.K.: Well, I’ve gotten to know this group a bit already and any concerns I may have had have certainly been put to rest so far. No one is licking my dog, Finley, but perhaps it’s because he recently had an encounter with a skunk. I wanted to come up with something different and new. I don’t have access to Bruce Springsteen, but access to someone with access to him would be valuable to me. If you’re a giant fan of the team I have access to, what would be valuable to you? Behind-the-scenes stories sportswriters tell at parties always get incredible reactions, way beyond what we expect. So let’s create occasions where you and some of your friends get those. Let’s give you a somewhat direct line to answers of your team-related questions. Four times a year I’ll arrange big gatherings where I buy the first round and hopefully bring a guest. Phones away. Circle of trust. Not giving away anything a team exec may have told me in confidence, of course. But if you want my real feelings about a past or present player or to see if there was anything to a big rumor or whatever, I’ll offer what I can face-to-face that I can’t say on the radio or write. Same thing over golf or something comparable in your small group. Maybe I’ll actually break 90 by the end of that. It’s going great. I’ve had to refund a couple people who managed to sign up after it sold out. Nearly every day someone asks me about expanding it or creating a practice squad or something. So there is demand. Really the one error so far is my inability to find a level between the subscription which gets you all the content for the price of a good coffee or beer and the big guns who get the content plus the high-level interaction with me.

J.P.: I feel like every journalist has a money story from his/her career. The John Rocker-esque crazy saga that never gets old. What’s yours?

P.K.: Hardest question on your list. I don’t think mine is up to the standard of most, but I’ll give it a shot. In the summer of 2006, The Tennessean sent me to Atlanta and Morgantown, W.Va. to learn everything I could about Pacman Jones. We started with the premise that if you are where you come from, we could understand him better from a close look at those places.  I spent time in the tough neighborhood where he grew up, and his high school, and the community center where he player hoops. I went to the pool hall at West Virginia where people detailed watching him smash in a person’s face with a cue and to bars he went to during college and just a couple weeks before I was there. I visited with his coaches and the team chaplain and SID. Good, on the ground, thorough reporting that went into a 100-inch piece. Biggest thing I’ve ever written. So during training camp I’d drop little nuggets when I interacted with him. Hey, I was at this place and I talked to your guy Sam, or whatever. Most guys really take note when you bring them stuff like that and it seemed to be having the normal effect. He seemed impressed I went to some of the dangerous places in Atlanta. I was trying to set up a scenario where, even if he wouldn’t talk about it all, he would confirm some of the key details. But when it came time to run through that list, on the day I approached him at his locker, he MFed me up and down and threatened me, making sure the whole locker room heard it. And when the story ran, I think he was most upset or embarrassed that I had learned he was in special ed for a stretch in high school, not for learning reasons but for behavioral ones. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, asked me why I wasn’t worried he’d come to my place. I said by the time he figured out where it was and started to drive, someone else would piss him off and he’d change directions. I don’t care what he’s doing now, he is a bad guy.

J.P.: Um, according to your bio you earned $200 for your work as an extra in the wedding and reception scenes of The Deer Hunter. Do tell …

P.K.: My father was the priest at St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Cleveland from 1963-76. We left in the spring of 1976, and his successor was the priest who served at Steven and Angela’s wedding in the movie. I went back, stayed with family friends and was in the congregation and at the party with fellow parishioners. Meryl Streep tried to teach me how to whistle using two fingers so I would hear myself if I wasn’t able to see myself.  (Oh-for-two, really. I was sure I saw myself a couple times when I watched it, but can’t find myself now.) Everyone encouraged me to dance at the reception to be sure to be seen, but I was a shy idiot. My autograph book includes all these compliments and then, alongside Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken and Michael Cimino and Streep, the crusty church caretaker signed it, “To the worst boy in the country.” My oldest brother took me to the movie when it came out, and we didn’t leave after that early stuff. Bad work by him letting me see war prisoners in cages in a river and Russian roulette scenes. What a great movie, though.



• Five least-agreeable athletes you’ve ever covered: Pacman Jones, Randy Moss, Arian Foster, Marvin Harrison, Jason Layman.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ken Burrough, George Bernard Shaw, Howard Stern, Robert’s Western World, Mike Organ, Jemele Hill, Electric Light Orchestra, Marvell Wynn, Hurricane Sandy, the Vulcan Death Grip, the word “flapjacks.”: Howard Stern, Robert’s Western World, Ken Burrough, “flapjacks,” the Vulcan death grip, Mike Organ, Marvell Wynne, Jemele Hill, ELO Hurricane Sandy, George Bernard Shaw.

• One question you would ask Layzie Bone were he here right now?: Who is Assasin No. 2? (I’d be proud of that if it didn’t take a Google search. Actually it would have been, Who are you?)

• Seven greatest athletes you’ve ever witnessed: In no particular order, and presuming you don’t mean live: Carl Lewis, Jevon Kearse (he was live), Bo Jackson, Secretariat, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, LeBron James.

• What’s the dumbest statistic in pro sports?: I’m not a big fan of time of possession in football. I understand you don’t want the other team to have the ball too much as it can mean too much work for your defense. But one-play, 80-yard drives feature an 80-yard touchdown play. That’s exactly what you want and they don’t take long at all.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Ron Guidry? What’s the outcome?: I could run away from him for a while, I suppose. He knocks me out in the sixth as I tire. I am a verbal combatant, not a physical one. Any athletic man who wants to beat me, will, even if he’s 67. Though I question his motivation here, as he and Dave Righetti rank as my all-time favorite pitchers.

• The world needs to know—what was it like covering Biren Ealy?: Titans’ fans love long-shot wide receivers. So there was actually lots of tamping down unreasonable expectations.

• You’re a big Springsteen fan. What’s his worst song? Why?: I’ll spare you the obligatory “Mary Queen of Arkansas.” It’s “Kingdom of Days” from Working on a Dream, his worst album. I don’t know what he’s going for here. I like the way he sounds in nearly everything and I hate the way he sounds in this. Like a wanna be old-time crooner or something.

• How’d you meet your wife?: She and her best friend had two pitchers of beer and a veggie plate on their table Jonathan’s Grille in Hillsboro Village in Nashville. My gang was nowhere near as healthy and struck up a conversation based on that contrast. It was Two for Tuesday and Yankees-Padres Game 3 of the 1998 World Series. I had a ticket for Game 5 in San Diego. The Yankees swept.

• Biggest mistake of your writing career?: Never learning to type.

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Wayne Franklin

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One of the things that always fascinates me about pro sports is how 99 percent of the participants play, play, play, play—then vanish.

Think about it. Sure, guys like Mike Piazza and Emmitt Smith and Patrick Ewing will always have famous names and faces that carry them through lifetimes of autograph shows and free meals. But the vast majority enjoy their time in the sun before disappearing into the world at large. They exist among us, as teachers and mechanics and dentists and college coaches.


But not really there.

Today’s Quaz, former Major League pitcher Wayne Franklin, was there. From 2000-06, he performed for five Major League teams, winning a career-high 10 games with the 2003 Milwaukee Brewers. Neither Pedro Martinez nor John Van Benschoten, he was a workmanlike starter/reliever whose left arm offered a certain level of protected longevity.

In today’s 326th Quaz, Wayne explains his respect for Barry Bonds, his dismissiveness toward Alex Rodriguez and his love for the state of Delaware. One can follow him on Twitter here and read his blog here.

Wayne Franklin, you’re the new Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Wayne, whenever I’ve covered jerkish Major League players, I always think, “Why are you so surly? So mean? Such an ass? Because this will be the greatest time in your life—and one day you’ll look back and realize you spent the time being a tool.” Wayne, am I right about this? Do you look at your life and think, “It’ll never be better than my time in the Majors?” Or, does life actually get better post-retirement? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

WAYNE FRANKLIN: Do I miss it? Yes, of course. Do I dwell on it? No. I don’t ever try to be “better than my time in the Majors.” There’s nothing to which I can compare this; so, I just focus on my family (which also has no comparables), because this is where everything began, and it is where everything ends. To me, life is about people. So I now teach baseball—the correct way—to all eager minds I can, which is very rewarding to me.

J.P.: You played two years at Cecil Community College, two at UMBC, then you were selected in the 36th round of the 1996 amateur draft by the Dodgers, and signed four days later. I read somewhere that you were thrilled (Your quote: “All I dreamt about when I was a kid playing baseball was that some day I’d like to be playing for the Dodgers”)—even though 36th round doesn’t seem so thrilling. So why the euphoria? And how did you find out you were drafted? Where were you?

W.F.: First, that is a misquote. From the day I began watching baseball I was a Yankees’ fan(atic). I still am, although I watch baseball in an entirely different way, now. Second, where I was drafted did not concern me, which I can honestly say I’ve proven. Plus, it was something over which I had no control. Here’s a lesson about baseball: There is much to be said about “knowing thy self.” The only thing I was wondering, come draft day, was who would draft me (Mariners or Dodgers), and at what position. In college I was a pitcher and first baseman, and at the time I was a much better hitter than I was a pitcher. The day I was drafted I was in my parents’ back yard, working on some hitting drills. Ironically.

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J.P.: Don’t take offense to this—but why weren’t you great? I mean, you’re great compared to 99.9 percent of us. But you’re not going down as Dwight Gooden, as Pedro Martinez, as Sandy Koufax or Jim Palmer or Bob Gibson. And my question is, specifically, what’s the difference between those guys and the rest of the guys? What do they have that you didn’t?

W.F.: This is a great question. Philosophically, you can only define greatness by comparing things, which your question actually does. Statistically, I was not one of the “greats” of Major League history. However, there are many variables, and this would take a while to discuss. I’ll just simplify by saying that it all comes down to execution of pitches.

J.P.: I know you were born in 1974 in Delaware, I know you were drafted by the Dodgers. But what was your path from the womb to baseball? Like, how did it happen for you? Where did the passion and love come from? And do you still have it?

W.F.: My passion for baseball began (and this is no bullshit) the very day I learned how to play catch. My passion was real, and it felt very innate. Maybe this innateness is where all passion dwells. If so, I recommend that everyone look for anything innate; very blissful. Growing up in Maryland, the winters were long and tough, probably because of my impatient anticipation of baseball season. What fueled me more than anything else were cynics. Anyone who has ever played at the highest level of any sport can probably empathize with me wholeheartedly.

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J.P.: Getting old sucks. I hate it. But I was never an top-level athlete, performing at the top of the top professional rank. What is aging like for you? Is it frustrating, no longer able to do the things your once did?

W.F.: Old? Man, 43 is the new 25. I’ve never stopped staying in pretty good shape. I don’t kick my own ass as much as I used to, though. Like I said, I’m still around the game all the time. And, trust me, I can still pitch. Also, my wife is a really good athlete (she used to kick my ass in golf all the time). So she’s my partner, and she keeps me accountable so that I don’t become some potbellied old man.

J.P.: You were teammates with Barry Bonds in San Francisco in 2004. I wrote a book on Bonds, found him to be a pretty remarkably not nice guy. What do you recall of playing with Barry? What was he like for you as a teammate?

W.F.: I came to know Barry as a teammate first. From that perspective, he was great. I thought he had a great capacity for empathizing with teammates. He just never had much patience or pleasure in dealing with the media. To me, Barry’s greatness came from his ability to leave irrationality (or, emotion) at home, and he never took it onto a ball field.

J.P.: You bounced to some interesting spots toward the end of your playing career—the York Revolution, the Uni-President Lions in Taiwan, the Chico Outlaws. When you’re with those teams, is the goal to keep playing because you love playing, or to keep playing because you want another Major League taste? And when did you know—like, know know—it was over?

W.F.: At the end of my career, I played in York because it was a chance to let my baseball come full circle, because my family could easily travel from Maryland, whenever they wanted, to watch me play. I went to Taiwan because it was another chance to experience baseball within an entirely different culture. I knew it was time to walk away from the game when teams weren’t calling—early and often. I knew that if I had to begin making contact with them. it was a bad sign.

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J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

W.F.: Greatest Moment: August 18, 2003 (this is a long story—and one I’ve written about; if you’re ever intrigued enough, let me know, and I can send it to you)

Lowest Moment: The day I rode off into the sunset.

J.P.: In 2005 you appeared in 13 games for the New York Yankees. That team featured guys like Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez, Cano, ARod, Jeter, Matsui, Bernie, Giambi, Sheffield—a Who’s Who of modern-era Yankee legends. You’d been around a bit at that point—is it still at all awe inspiring playing for that team, with those guys? Is it merely another paycheck? And what do you remember from New York?

W.F.: Playing with the Yankees was literally my dream come true. I loved all of those guy—truly—except for A-Rod, whose personality really did not resemble any other on that squad. It almost seemed as if he was intimidated by the pinstripes and playing on that stage. I didn’t care for him, because I felt he was more about his image, and he had nothing that was old-school about him.

J.P.: How important are catchers? Being serious—you threw to some greats, some forgettables. How meaningful are they for a pitcher’s success? Is it at all overrated? And who’s the best you played with, as far as helping a pitcher along?

W.F.: Having a great catcher is very underrated. For example: When a catcher is very good at calling a game, he and the pitcher get into a great game-flow, which is difficult for other teams to slow down. Once a catcher develops this reputation, pitchers trust him, and in turn, trust their own pitches even more (conviction is one of those great intangibles a pitcher needs).

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• Five reasons one should make Wilmington, Delaware his/her next vacation destination: Wilmington Blue Rocks; the River Walk; tax-free shopping; Italian food; quick train ride to New York City (which is then easy to come back to a big hotel room in Wilmington, and not have to pay sales tax on it)

• The world needs to know—what was it like playing with Glendon Rusch?: Glendon “Tits” Rusch is the funniest guy who ever played Major League Baseball

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Jeffrey Hammonds, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cleveland, Kid ‘n Play, Facebook, Starbucks, Izod, Max Luckhurst, Tubby Raymond, Hershey Park, World of Coke, Woodstock: Tubby, World of Coke, Jeffrey Hammonds, Izod, Cleveland, Hershey Park, Starbucks, Buffy, Kid ‘n Play, Facebook, Woodstock

• We have you start one game, right now, for a Division III baseball team. What’s your line?: You could bet the farm on me. I’m putting up a lot—if not all—zeroes.

• You’re both from Delaware—how good was Delino DeShields? And did you ever talk Delaware with him?: I do know that he and Marquis Grissom were the first teammates (Montreal) to ever finish first and second in stolen bases.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash?: Can’t say that I have.

• Climate change—myth or real?: Myth (at this point). I believe that weather is cyclical.

• Five hitters who gave you the hardest time?: Sean Casey, Jeff Bagwell, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Adrian Beltre

• Three memories from your first date?: Movie (Three O’clock High); miniature golf (at Vince’s Batting Cages, Chestnut Hill); goodnight kiss.

• Celine Dion calls. She offers you $25 million to move to Las Vegas and teach her to pitch. You work one year, every day, but have to change your name to Jack Dawson and also live on a diet of cabbage and M&Ms. You in?: Without hesitation—yes. I’m a silver-lining type of guy. I use the cabbage to make sauerkraut, which is great for digestion. The M&M’s are there for me to keep my sanity about the cabbage. Celine better be ready to get her ass on that mound and work, too.

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Bomani Jones

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Back, oh, a decade or so ago, Bomani Jones and I both served as columnists for ESPN’s Page 2.

I’m pretty sure no one actually read ESPN’s Page 2—but I did. And even though he was young and inexperienced and relatively obscure, Bomani’s words soared from the screen. I know … I know—that sounds sorta goofy cliche. But it’s true. The man could straight-up write, and before long I considered his pieces weekly must-reads.

That’s why, as I welcome him here as the magical 325th Quaz, I’m hardly surprised by Bomani’s emergence as one of sports media’s grandest stars. Not only does Bomani host a weekly ESPN Radio show, The Right Time With Bomani Jones, but he’s a regular on both Around The Horn  and Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Evening Jones.

In other words, Bomani Jones isn’t one for sleeping.

You can follow Bomani on Twitter here and Instagram here, and visit his website here.

Bomani Jones, you are this week’s Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Bomani, I was just reading your bio, and I truly wonder whether anyone has spent more time talking over the past decade and a half than you have. You’ve always hosted one show, two shows, three shows. Just this endless string of shows. And I wonder, truly, what the joy is. Like, what is it about speaking, talking, conversing on air that does it for you? And do you ever tire of hearing yourself speak?

BOMANI JONES: I’d definitely say I get tired speaking, though I’m not so sure I get tired of hearing myself. I also don’t necessarily enjoy hearing myself speak, but I do like the act of it. I like playing around with different ways of saying things, flipping up what words are used to describe what situations for maximum effect. In a technical way, that’s a draw for me. But in media, I truly enjoy being able to connect with people. Radio has been my favorite medium, and it’s because it’s the most intimate one. It’s the place where the presenter and the audience typically know each other the best, and each is most comfortable. Time is tight on television, and there’s so much one must get done before the next commercial break. Writing requires a certain perfectionism, and everything is meticulously chosen in a way that makes it difficult to be natural.

But in everything I’ve done, I’ve wanted it to come across as being sincere and earnest. I don’t think I could have a career without conveying those two qualities. And by doing so, I’ve met so many incredible people. Not the people I’ve interviewed or worked with necessarily, but those who truly connect with my work. Many people in my audiences have become my true friends, and the shows were our point of connection. That creates more joy than anything else for me, the ability to truly affect people. Through sports, I can demonstrate both how big and small the world is, and make points I think are important for an audience who may not hear them otherwise. I’m not changing the world with this, but I do think I can make it better in small moments for a large number of people, and that truly makes me feel good.

J.P.: You and I wrote for at the same time for a while, and you’ve been with the company for many years. So I wonder what you make of the layoffs, and the state of the network. Can it survive relatively intact? Does a sports network in 2017 need to completely rethink what it’s been doing for nearly four decades? Is there a risk, with 1,000,000 viewing options, people ultimately simply no longer need a place to watch sports programing?

B.J.: I start with the reminder that I don’t work in the department at ESPN that makes any decisions. At the risk of sounding like a company man, I do think people should wait and see what happens after the layoffs before determining exactly what they mean. I’d also look at layoffs across the industry to see the similarities in who got cut, as I think that broader look is more illustrative than just looking at ESPN.

I would say, though, that there are very few television properties that any consumer truly needs. The most needed cable channel ever was probably The Weather Channel, and it’s one that truly has to deal with the fact that consumers don’t need it in the era of apps. But I’d say everyone in sports has, for years, tried to woo consumers by making this something they want. I imagine ESPN is studying what its consumers want and the best way to reach them. But anyone in this industry banking on surviving because their property is necessary is doing this wrong.

J.P.: So I know you were born in Atlanta, then relocated to Houston. I know you graduated from Clark, then earned a pair of master’s degrees. But how did this—sports media—happen for you? Was there an ah-ha lightbulb moment? Something or someone specifically who pushed you this route?

B.J.: Now this is a long, circuitous story, but the long of the short—my senior year of college, I started freelance writing with the goal of becoming a music critic. I managed to achieve that, though I also realized in that process that anyone can be a music critic just by criticizing music. I got lucky because I reached a point of making a livable wage doing so. While I was doing that, I was in a Ph.D program at the University of North Carolina studying economics. Well, in the 2004-05 academic year, I both flunked out of the Ph.D program and saw a decent-paying column turn into a low-paying blog, and the little bit of security I thought I’d found was gone.

I’d done some sportswriting by then, and I had been walked up to the door at Page 2 by the late, great Ralph Wiley. After everything in my life got shaky. asked for more of my work. Some was sports commentary and some was based on the interplay between sports and pop culture. It was weird because I started doing things that were an expansion of the sportswriting paradigm of the time, but was also trying to learn, yanno, how to be a sportswriter. I was covering events for the first time and trying to learn to navigate locker rooms and media relations departments and everything else. I had no idea what sportswriting really was. I just loved writing and wanted to write and thought I had things to say about sports that were worth hearing.

But I don’t think there was really a eureka moment about it. Circumstances threw me in this direction, but it’s not like I’m saying circumstances threw me into working in a factory or anything. I didn’t have many options…and then ESPN called and I tried to make the best of it. But it was making the best of a dream-like scenario. Once I was in, it was clear that this was what I did. I went from writing to radio to the Internet to television, but it was always in sports at that point. This was my world.

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J.P.: I recently engaged in a pretty heated spat (from afar) with Stephen A. Smith. I wrote that I hate the brand of media he and Skip and a bunch of others bring forth. He thought my take was sharpened by an unspoken racism. And, off of that, I’d like to ask—as an African-American man, who do you see when you look at the sports media landscape right now? Do you feel represented? Do you feel marginalized? Have things improved? Gotten worse?

B.J.: I feel marginalized by some, but I don’t think I take that personally. The people I work with have demonstrated that they respect me as a person and they respect my work, and I don’t think there are too many “for a black guy…” caveats to that. There are some viewers who will always see me as whatever black guy they’ve decided I am. I might be the “ghetto” guy with bad grammar to some, the arrogant jerk to others and, of course, the angry black guy. But that’s got less to do with the sports landscape than being black in America. I guess I feel no more marginalized at work than I do anywhere else, but it’s been a while since I let the perceptions of strangers affect my day-to-day.

Now, do I feel represented in the industry? Probably not, but that causes me less of a problem when I consume sports media than, in my career, when I’ve dealt with decision makers. The lack of representation feels more problematic when trying to sell my vision to someone with the power to help make it happen, but who can’t get beyond the fact that I’m a little younger and blacker than he’s used to. I would like to see more black, non-athletes in visible positions, but I’d also like to see more women and Latinos in those places, too. Part of that is a simple notion of fairness, but I also think that would improve the quality of the overall product. How can we, as an industry, properly cover baseball when so many players only speak Spanish and so many around baseball only speak English? How can a writer understand the players without having a real understanding of the factors that led many of them into athletics in the first place? That’s not something that is innate to a person of color, but it’s something a person of color is more likely to be familiar with.

I suppose, though, I would say things have gotten better. That said, it’s not like they could have gotten worse than they’d been at different points in memory. So yes, better, but not good enough.

J.P.: I don’t know what to do with myself about Donald Trump’s presidency. I’m angry, I’m agitated, I often feel helpless. Bomani, what to do?

B.J.: Not really a great answer for this one. I do think a lot of people have become informed on how much there is to do to affect politics beyond voting, and how simply casting a vote can only do so much, no matter one’s ideology. I think a renaissance of informed citizens is under way. We’ll have to see how much power those people will have and for how long.


J.P.: God, I hate Around the Horn. It’s not you AT ALL, it’s that format, and the loudness, and the goofiness. I ask, sincerely, what don’t I see? What am I missing?

B.J.: I think you’re missing how knowledgeable all the panelists are. I started doing ATH after the show had been on the air for nine years. I had my impressions of everyone because I’d watched them for years. What I found after doing a few conference calls was that the panelists were so smart and knew so much. I’d sit in my house amazed, at times, that I got to listen to Bob Ryan give his thoughts on whatever we were talking about on a given day. The panelists on ATH are truly some of my favorite people.

I’d say, though, that the complaints about loudness and goofiness are a bit outdated. Everyone who’s been involved with the show for a long time laughs at how far things have come as they got their legs under them, and that process legitimately took years. But I truly believe that you can get more insight and information in an episode of Around the Horn than you can on any other show, just because you have four really bright people approaching sports from four different angles. You should give us more chances. I really think you’d find us worth your time.

J.P.: You’ve served as an adjunct professor at Duke and Elon. What are we supposed to tell journalism students in 2017? Do we guide them toward the profession, even with all the problems? Do we encourage them to go elsewhere?

B.J.: I would tell them the same thing I told journalism majors before things seemed so dire to people—don’t major in journalism. And that’s less a knock on journalism than my belief in the value of a liberal arts education. I think you should learn to think, then apply that to a vocation of your choosing. Going all-in on any job as a major seems like a bad idea to me, especially when that industry changes as rapidly as journalism has. I also think, should you decide to become a journalist, you need to be a more sophisticated thinker than ever. With so much content available, differentiating yourself requires as much talent as it ever has. You’ve got to be able to make connections that weren’t quite as necessary before. Thing is, that’s probably the case in dozens of industries. So prepare your mind to jump in and out of a few things, because there’s no telling when circumstance may force you to find something new.

That said, media has always been something for those who love it. It’s the sort of business that will weed out those who only like it. The perks that make it worth it are really only for those who are totally into this work. The perks that anybody in the world would want are available to only a few, and there’s a lot of stuff you’ve got to go through to get there that probably aren’t worth it if this is just something you sorta like.

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J.P.: I feel like everyone in journalism has a money story—that craziest thing that’s ever happened to them, and it winds up being a great party story for years. Bomani, what’s yours?

B.J.: Now this is interesting. I feel like my best stories are peripheral to the industry, like things seen at parties, than specifically on-the-job stuff. The best on-the-job one, sadly, isn’t one I can share. Damn, neither is the second. I do, however, like telling a story about interviewing Mystikal when I was in college. It was the first in-person interview I’d done with an artist, and I was doing it as he rode in his limo from the airport in Atlanta to the barbershop (he was performing at the homecoming concert for Clark Atlanta University, my alma mater). It also happened to be the day his album “Let’s Get Ready” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts.

So we get in the limo. I’m fumbling trying to get my tape recorder going, and the dude representing the university tried to lean on me about it, as if I wasn’t going as fast as I can. He also didn’t seem to notice that Mystikal didn’t mind the delay, as that allowed him to whip out a blunt and fire up. I’ll always remember what he said—”Am I charming y’all or boring y’all?”—and what he didn’t say—”Anybody wanna hit this?” We all said we were fine, as you don’t get in a limo with a musician if you draw the line and someone smoking weed. The interview went from there and was pretty ordinary for that sort of fare.

The best part for me that day, though, was that Mystikal left his seafood platter in the limo. He has seafood on his rider, so he clearly wanted the food, and I imagine he was really gonna want it, with munchies and whatnot. I took the seafood home. That seafood was so good. And, at 20-years old, a free plate of seafood and the privilege of inhaling a rapper’s secondhand cannabis smoke was more than enough for me.

J.P.: How do you feel about social media interaction? What I mean is—BOMANI, YOU’RE A FUCKING WHORE. Do you respond to that Tweeter? Ignore him? Block him? Mute him? Do you think we in sports media have any sort of obligation to engage? Should we?

B.J.: Well, I think my social media presence indicates that I reply to that guy, and then I block him. Maybe not all of them, but lots of them. I don’t know if I engage most of them, though. I like to knock them around a little, then go on about my business. There’s not much back-and-forth to be had with trolls. They do the back. I do the forth. The cycle is complete. I just tend to do it with probably more people than I should, but I admit I enjoy the sport of quickly coming up with a retort. I can do it in my sleep. So, I do those things and retweet them for those who enjoy the show, fully understanding that many people don’t enjoy it as much as I do.

But no, you don’t have an obligation to engage someone who simply hates you. I’m inclined to engage those with good points, but I don’t owe everyone a response. Hell, I don’t owe anyone a response. But I do owe it to myself and my audience to engage anyone whose perspective can better inform my own. That’s the way you get better. Back when e-mail was the primary mode of feedback, I’d reply to lots of people because lots of people made good points. There were haters, but fewer of them. Social media has absolutely increased the level of senselessly negative feedback. You don’t have to reply to anything senseless.

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J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

B.J.: Hmmmm, greatest moment of my career is tricky because I don’t know if I’ve done anything truly great yet. But I think the most gratifying moment of my career was when I got a midday radio show in Raleigh, N.C. in 2008. What made that great, for me, was that I was less than a year removed from being let go by After that, I started doing a Saturday show and every shift I could pick up before working all summer on afternoon drive. My career was in the balance, and I focused on becoming a good radio host. And in a relatively short period of time, I got good enough to do a show that jumpstarted everything that’s happened for me since. That was make or break time, and I haven’t broken yet.

Now, the lowest? Probably that same job, when I read in a press release that the time slot I had would be filled by someone else, after a pending sale would be completed. And this was shortly after finding out I did fantastically in the previous ratings book. It happened because of a miscommunication, but it felt like unnecessary humiliation in a situation where I was getting the short end of the stick and most people knew it. It was a miserable feeling, and I had no idea where my career would go from there. That was 2009.

But here’s the thing—the next job I got paid more and was on Sirius, which was technically “national” and allowed me to do things like appear on “Around the Horn” within a year. Things have a funny way of working out sometimes.

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• Your name is Bomani Babatinde Jones. Which is awesome. Please explain the background: Bomani means “warrior” in a handful of languages, but I think my parents specifically got that one from Mali. Babatunde means “return of the father,” a name I received as I was the first male Jones born after my grandfather died. Jones … I’ve actually never looked that one up.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Roy Williams, Peaches & Herb, “Fences,” archery, Aquaman, Ryan Reynolds, Sam Perkins, Coke Zero, Wendy Williams, Debbie Gibson, the number 12, eggs and toast with a side of bacon: Sam Perkins, Roy Williams, Peaches and Herb, “Fences,” 12, eggs and toast with a side of bacon, Aquaman, archery, Ryan Reynolds, Debbie Gibson, Coke Zero, Wendy Williams

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I have never thought I was going to die, but I’ve definitely been on alert. Then I quickly realized I couldn’t do anything about it and if the plane crashed, I wouldn’t remember what I did right before.

• One question you would ask Lionel Manuel were he here right now?: What’s the craziest thing you ever saw Lawrence Taylor do?

• Five greatest athletes you’ve ever seen play in person?: LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry (Davidson edition was impossible to describe),

• In exactly 16 words, make a case for Alan Henderson’s Hall of Fame credentials: Somehow, some way, he managed four full years at Indiana without plotting to maim Bobby Knight.

• Three memories from your first-ever date?: 1. Picking her up for the date;  2. Her realizing we were going to a different theater than she expected; 3. Finding out she’d actually planned to meet someone else after our ride dropped us off.


• What concerns you more—climate change or the unemployment rate?: Climate change. Unemployment rates tend to go up and down. Climate change seems to be going all in one direction, and that’s all bad.

• What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?: “I’m becoming a big fan of yours.” — Ralph Wiley

• Six greatest sports journalists of your lifetime: Ralph WileyGary SmithFrank DefordAdrian WojnarowskiWright ThompsonJim Murray

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Maggie Steffens

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So a few weeks ago an issue of SI for Kids arrived in the mail, and my daughter Casey squealed audibly when the magazine included a trading card of someone named Maggie Steffens.

“I follow her on Instagram!” she said. “She’s amazing!”

That was enough for me. I reached out to Maggie via Twitter, fired off a quick DM—and here we are, taking water polo and nutrition and hearing the national anthem play on foreign soil. But here’s the cool part: When I told Maggie that my daughter was about to begin tryouts for her high school team, she volunteered to reach out and offer a kind word. A day later, Casey texted me from school.

Her: “Did you have Maggie Steffens text me?”

Me: “I did.”

Her: Whoa.

It was a life highlight. It also spoke to the goodness of a young woman who believes in her sport, and also believes water polo participants need to stick together.

In today’s Quaz, Maggie and I talk post-Olympic letdown, tubs o’ ice cream, Tom Petty and sisterhood. One can follow her on Twitter here, Facebook here and Instagram here.

Maggie Steffens, two golds are impressive. But the 324th Quaz? Legendary.

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Maggie—I open with this. You won gold in the 2012 Olympics. You won gold again in the 2016 Olympics. And I wonder, after you win gold, and you receive the medal, and after you return home … what does that feel like? Does the glow remain? Does it vanish? Do you ever have moments of, “Is this as good as it gets?” or is it a perpetual, “Yes! We did it! Yes!”

MAGGIE STEFFENS: Honestly, it only gets better once you get home, at least for a short while.

We are not Olympians and/or Olympic champions because we woke up one day, all on our own, and did it. It takes an entire team and years of preparation—physically, mentally and emotionally. Many members of our own personal ‘teams’ are those from our home towns, our schools, our colleges, our friends and our family. I even think back to my first soccer coach and how much he believed in me—just at age 9! I think about my high school teachers who supported me and were so understanding when I had to split my time between school and full-time training for 2012. I think about my friends who I grew up with, the ones who challenged me and the ones who smiled with me. I think about my water polo coach, Maureen O’Toole, and holding her Olympic silver medal… dreaming one day maybe I could have one of my own. I think about striving to be amongst the best and grateful for the Stanford dream.

But mainly, I think about my family: my older siblings and my parents. Wow. When I got to let my family hold the gold medal, they had won that medal too. It gives me the chills to think about. My family, even my crazy Schnugg cousins (yes, Gramma Schnugg had 13 kids and each of those kids had lots of kids, so I have about 40 cousins who all are stellar athletes and live in the Bay Area), shaped me into the girl I was then and then woman I am now.

So because of that, the glow remains. Sharing the gold with the people who may not be wearing a zipper suit and water polo cap by your side, but the people who have been there with you from the start. They deserve a piece of the gold as well because none of us could do it without them. So in that way, that happiness and pride never fades.

But the excitement definitely does. A few weeks after the Olympics, it’s on to the next thing and life goes on. It’s pretty weird how one month after all your dreams coming true and being the happiest you’ve ever been, you may be in a dorm room studying for your first college midterm and just trying to figure out the partial differential equation … um, what?!

In all seriousness, I did struggle a bit after my first Olympics. I knew London wasn’t “as good as it gets,” but I was a little lost for sure. It took me some time, but I always came back to my dad’s words—“Strive to be amongst the best” and “Always remember your last name.” With these in mind, I knew there was still so much more. I focused on the values of what the “Steffens” name means to me and thought about my goal of always striving to be amongst the best. I was fortunate to have that at Stanford and with Team USA. My dream was still to be an Olympian and an Olympic champion—I had just done it once before. The dream remains today, it just follows a different path and a different journey, which makes each new quad so special.

There are so many paths in life, which helps keep me motivated and excited for the life to come. I don’t just want to be an Olympic champion, I want to take my Stanford degree somewhere, I want to possibly have my own business one day, I want to make a difference in the world, I want to have fun. My family always makes fun of me for always wanting to do everything, but helps keep me dreaming.

Anyway, now that I have ranted for 20 minutes, I’m not even sure if I answered the question … but I will tell you that sometimes, out of nowhere, I will just smile because I know our team accomplished our dream together. That is what it is all about. Sharing this with your team—the team you play with and the team behind the scenes. I have that moment of “Yes! We did it!” all the time. I smile and then I continue to get back to the life at hand.

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J.P.: So we moved to SoCal three years ago, and my daughter immediately gravitated toward water polo—a sports we barely knew back in New York. So I wonder—why did we barely know it back in New York? What I mean is—the game is fast, exciting, thrilling, athletic, dynamic. Yet it seems like, across America, it’s pretty limited in knowledge and appeal. Am I wrong? Am I right? And is there a reason?

M.S.: I’m so happy she gravitated toward water polo. It is the best, so I hope she loves it. But Jeff, I ask myself this question every day. I still don’t get it. How is water polo not a sport every kid is doing and loving? Water polo is truly a mix of so many sports, which allows for great opportunity. Just like basketball, there is a center and a center defender, there are outside shooters and people who drive to the hoop, there is counter attack and counter defense, there is ball movement/passing lanes/picks/anticipation … just add another player, a goalie, and a net!

Just like soccer, there is an offsides component, corner kicks, angles lanes and penalty shots. Just like hockey, there are man-ups and man-downs, quick play and movement. And it’s really physical—just under the water :).

So, add the endurance and sprint swimming component as well as the mental and physical toughness it takes to play the game, and there you have it! It even used to be called “water rugby,” so I’m sure that can help paint a better picture. But to me, if the game were more simple to understand from a regular audience perspective, the sport would be more popular. That’s why exposure to the sport at a young age would be super beneficial in its overall growth. I think this is why it is more popular on the west coast. There are outdoor pools everywhere, a little bit warmer, and people are pretty comfortable with the beach.

In the Bay Area, I was very fortunate to have Maureen O’Toole and Jim Purcell start Diablo Water Polo Club and have the exposure to the game at a young age. Anyone who plays other sports and can swim will love water polo. I guarantee it. So at a young age when people are trying out soccer, basketball, swimming, etc… water polo ties them all together.

Something I would love to help with is exposure and opportunity. Take basketball and soccer. If you walk around a city or even a suburb, at almost every other block there is a public basketball court or grassy field. All you need is the ball and you can play around. It becomes a pastime that reminds you of your childhood when sport was simply fun. With water polo, you can’t just hop in a random pool by yourself and somehow find a water polo cage and float it by yourself (too expensive, too much liability, no cages or balls, and not enough pool space/time!). I was lucky because I had a backyard pool and three older siblings and a water polo cage to play around with… “3, 2, 1… she shoots … she scores! aaaaahh”

We were able to play almost every day just like some kids can walk across their street to play basketball, soccer or football. If every kid had this opportunity, I think the sport could really grow. I went to Croatia this summer and there were water polo cages at every beach! People just jump in and play. I would love to channel that opportunity here in the states … the water is just a little bit colder.

I also just want to add that water polo is a great sport for kids simply because any body type can play. It’s almost like the water is an equalizer. You can be short, you can be tall, you can be built, you can be skinny, you can be lanky, you can be bigger, you can be smaller.

J.P.: Your dad Carlos was a fantastic water polo player—three Pan Am Games, three-time All-American at Cal, 1979 Pac-10 Player of the Year. And, as a sportswriter, I’ve found that people with such backgrounds can go one of two ways as parents. They either 1. Push, push, push their kids; or they 2. Sorta hang back, let the love develop organically, or not at all. What was your dad like in this regard?

M.S.: My dad is the most passionate person I know and water polo is one of his biggest passions. So his love for the sport exudes out of his every being. When he watches our games, he is up in the corner of the stands, wearing a colorful shirt and his white Panama hat. He pretends he’s playing.

It’s a mental game and he loves putting himself back in those competitive situations, but he keeps it to himself—he simply wants to enjoy. Which is his biggest passion—enjoying life and enjoying it with his family. For this reason, he definitely let us discover the sport and find the love for it on our own. He would “push” us by having water polo balls around the house as kids and playing keep away with us in the backyard pool. We learned to love this yellow ball and what it represented (a fun game with family). We even would throw around coconuts in the Caribbean, pretending to play water polo in the waves! He always “pushed” us to give everything—our first, second, third, fourth effort, and to “represent our last name” in all that we do. In this, we learned so many values of sport and competition, which have been so valuable to me not just as an athlete, but as a person. He definitely has been my best coach, though, with tricks of the trade and little talks after games. I learned so much and am still learning. Not to mention, he also made us very mentally tough, which you need to be a water polo player.

J.P.: You recently signed to play for UVSE, the best team in the Hungarian professional league. I’m curious how that came to be. I’m also curious how you feel about that. Are you like, “Yes, Hungary!” Are you like, “Um, Hungary?”

I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to play abroad next year because I am finishing up my Master’s at Stanford as well as trying out some business ventures. The opportunity to be a guest player for a team presented itself and allowed me to fulfill my other passions and pursue my professional career abroad. To be honest, I NEVER thought I would play in Hungary and at first didn’t even consider them as an option. I always imagined I would be in some tropical place where I can salsa dance and play in the ocean… Hungary is not quite that. What sold me on Hungary was the opportunity there as well as the energy of Budapest. I feed off passion and energy – and it was flowing through me while we were in Hungary for 5 weeks this summer. It truly is a beautiful country, with so much history and incredible people (and good food… a necessity for me!). What I loved most about it though and what really opened my eyes to this opportunity was the love for water polo. Budapest was like the heart beat of water polo, the mecca to the sport I love. I wanted the opportunity to play in a place like that, where my sport is loved and celebrated. Not only that, legends were born here and the current players (men & women) can teach me a lot – I’m excited to simply ask them questions and learn/play with them.

I am inspired by the culture of the country and the culture of the sport in Hungary and am eager to be a part of it. I feel like I can really develop there as a person and as a player WHILE being in a place where people know, love, and respect water polo… HOW COOL IS THAT?! There is nothing like that in America for water polo and even many places around Europe. I look forward to playing in other countries later on in my career, but why not go to the mecca of our sport – learn, grow, develop – and LOVE It all at the same time?!

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J.P.: I recently had a long discussion with my 10-year-old son about athlete psyche-up music. Namely, does it actually do anything? I’m being very micro here—do you think there’s a direct relationship between pre-game music and performance? Or can we play Jay-Z or Barbra Streisand and it makes no difference? And do you have a psych-up tune?

M.S.: I think music does a lot. But, everyone is very different. This is why I think “psyche-up” music is more of a mental thing. It allows you to get in the mindset you believe you perform at best in that given moment. Everyone has their different vibe they are trying to channel before battle. For example, I like to play focused and intense, but loose and fun. I like to play as if I’m back in my backyard pool playing keep away with my dad and siblings or in the 12-under Junior Olympic Championship with my club team—but with the knowledge, experience, and toughness I’ve built up through training/games over the years. So I tend to listen to happy songs and lots of Spanish/Latin music—I mean the rhythm cannot be beat! And it reminds me of family.

This may be a little superstitious, but I also tend to listen to music with lyrics that represent the way I want to play. In 2012, alongside my many Spanish/Latin songs, one of my main pump-up songs was Maroon 5’s “Lucky Strike” (hoping I would have some lucky goals) and in 2016, two of my main songs were Andy Grammer’s “Good to be Alive” (to remind myself how amazing it is I get to play this game at the Olympics) and Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” simply because of these lyrics: This is the moment. Tonight is the night, we’ll fight til it’s over… like the ceiling can’t hold us. So, I am totally weird! But I like to listen to music and then not have my headphones in so I can be with the team, dancing (lots of dancing) and laughing and connecting so we are mentally and physically ready to accomplish our goal.

J.P.: In 2011 you skipped your high school graduation to join Team USA at the World Championships. That strikes me as a pretty hard decision to make. Was it? And how was the decision made?

M.S.: It wasn’t a tough decision, but it was a tough journey. I actually only went to about half of my last semester of my high school senior year. Full-time training in Southern California started in January, 2011, which was at the beginning of my last semester. I was fortunate enough, and still am, to have Adam Krikorian as my coach and someone who believed in me early on. He had mentioned full-time training to me before my senior year had started and I knew I wanted that opportunity. I had been dreaming of being an Olympian since I was young enough to start sport. But I also had the dream of going to Stanford and balancing my athletics with academics. So at the beginning of my senior year, I printed out a calendar for each of my teachers and one for myself. I sat down with them each individually and told them my dreams and aspirations and asked them how we could make it work. We ended up coming up with a schedule where I would come to school for a couple weeks then fly to SoCal to train for a week … then fly to school for a week then fly back to SoCal to train for two weeks.

I was very lucky to have teachers who also believed in me and allowed me to try to accomplish both of these dreams. I still remember taking an AP calculus test and crying in the middle of it, because I had no idea what was going on and was so stressed from all the travel/etc. That had never happened before and I was simply overwhelmed. This would happen during training, too. We were doing a swim set and I got lapped! I kept my head down and swam as hard as I could, but my body just couldn’t keep up. My eyes were teary during the swim, but I didn’t want to show that to anyone. I didn’t want to let anyone down.

After these moments, I wrote that swim set, that test, and different quotes on a bunch of sticky notes and put them all over my bathroom mirror. They were a reminder of how I didn’t want to feel and how important preparation was and who I wanted to be moving forward. Missing graduation, the social events and all the leadership activities was tough, but they were simple sacrifices in order to be the best I could be for Team USA. The hardest part was trying to be my best self for Team USA, for Stanford, for my friends and for my family while traveling back and forth at 16- and 17-years old. My friends made a fun video for me for my birthday which I received in Russia right before our USA team held a graduation ceremony for me in China (hotel robes, a Diploma signed by my coaches, & some local Chinese Pizza Hut). This was so special for me because it didn’t matter where I was in the world, I was surround by family and was very fortunate to have such great people to inspire me.

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J.P.: The other day I was talking with a colleague at ESPN who covered Michael Phelps for many years. And he was sort of bemoaning the way we often turn athletes into symbols of patriotism come Olympics; how we’ll paint a Michael Phelps or a Maggie Steffens as the “all-American story” when, first and foremost, you guys are top-level athletes there to compete. So I wonder—when you’re in the Olympics, do you feel more American (for lack of better phrasing) then usual? Do you feel like representing the U.S. makes it extra important? Does patriotism come into play?

M.S.: I wouldn’t say I feel more American at the Olympics. It is more that your American pride is heightened. I remember my first time representing Team USA. It was in Khanty-Mansisk, Siberia for junior worlds. We heard our national anthem before the first game and I had immediate chills. I was only maybe 15-years old and representing the Junior team, but we were still representing the United States. There was this pride that overtook my body and a respect I knew I had to play with. Once I caught this feeling, I knew this was what I wanted to do.

Preparing for the Olympics, you aren’t just thinking of yourself, but also your teammates. You are thinking about how can I make sure their dreams are fulfilled. You are thinking of your family and friends and how much they have helped all of us get here. And you are thinking of your country. You are thinking how you have the most special name on my cap, the name of the United States of America, and it is your job to represent it the best you can because that is what that name deserves. Truly, it is an honor to wear the red, white and blue and a constant reminder of how fortunate we are to be women, playing the sport we love, on the biggest stage possible.

My favorite moment of the Olympics, well there are many. One that is always extra special is standing on the podium, alongside these incredible and badass women you love and respect, and watching the American flag rise up with our hands on our hearts. I only sing the anthem in this moment, and I sing it loud and proud. I literally just laughed and smiled to myself thinking of this moment—it is breathtaking. Every breath and every thought has been about this moment, and now we get to cherish it. Our every dream has officially come true. It is a representation of what our country is about and we always want to represent the competitive and dream-oriented values of our great country. In 2016, I got to send out a video to the Armed Forces Network and felt so lucky to say “thank you.” Because they are representing our country and making sure that we, as athletes, get to simply play and compete for our country and represent in a completely different way. If it weren’t for them or their predecessors, we wouldn’t be up on that podium. It was a surreal moment. I love being American every day. The Olympics just make us even more proud of the opportunities we are given.

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J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

M.S.: The greatest moment of my career was standing on the podium and looking down at my oldest sister, Jessica Steffens. In 2008, Jess was playing for gold and our family was up in the stands. It felt like I played that game although I was just a young kid supporting my biggest inspiration. They came up short and won the silver, and I could feel the emotion and pain from the girls in the water. My dad looked at me and kind of gave me a look and said, “Now it’s your turn.” In that moment, I knew exactly what he meant. He believed that I would be in that water next time. Winning in 2012 was amazing and all the cliches you can think of apply, but winning alongside the women I had watched in 2008 and helping to change their destiny was the most incredible feeling one could ask for. I was playing for all those girls, but the main one was my own blood, Jess. Locking eyes and knowing that we just achieved our dreams together, as sisters, is truly the greatest moment of my life. She always was the one I looked up to and who I never wanted to let down, and now we were looking at each other knowing we had just fought to our last breath to make sure we would be standing in that moment together representing Steffens and Team USA. We got to look up and find our family in the stands and the looks on their faces were priceless. That moment of finding your family after the gold is truly the photographic moment everyone thinks about. In that moment is when you realize, wow, we did it.

My lowest moment was in 2013. I would say it was less of a moment and more of a way of life. I struggled in this year although I was extremely happy to have an Olympic gold medal and be a freshman at Stanford. A lot of great things happened and I was still very fortunate, but I wasn’t the “Maggie” I wanted to be. We lost in the 2013 NCAA Championship and ended up getting fifth at World Championships that summer. These losses definitely contribute to this being the lowest moment of my career, but it was more so the loss of the values that make me who I am. It wasn’t like I went and did something crazy or something awful like that, but my passion and my drive was not where it needed to be. I struggled with trying to keep the happy face that I always do, but missing a lot of the values that make me happy.

It really made me reflect on how I want to be and who I want to be. My dad always told us, “Remember your last name,” and I didn’t think I had done that that summer. I wanted to be my best self in all that I did, and I fell short. This year really helped me prepare for 2017 knowing that the year following the Olympics is definitely tough and I’m not shy to say it. You never know what life will throw at you!

J.P.: The wife and I were just looking over your Instagram feed—and you’re clearly in insanely good shape. So I wonder—what’s the key? How important is diet? Sleep? Fitness? Will you have an ice cream cone, drink a Coke? Will you ever skip a workout? Or is it all about regimentation?

M.S.: Oh, will I have an ice cream cone? I most likely will buy an entire Ben & Jerry’s pint for the week and eat it in one sitting. I love dessert, so you’ll definitely find me looking for the nearest Cold Stone wherever I live. But I do this because of my fitness and overall nutrition. I think that is what is most important, at least for me. I am aware of supplementing my body with what it needs in order to perform at the highest level and I am also very in-tune with my body. I listen to it.

Whether it’s a tart cherry shot or lots and lots of veggies, I want to make sure my body is ready to perform. With that, our sport requires you to be in great shape and it’s not easy. I truly believe you need to be in the best shape for water polo—although one’s shape is different for everyone. Not touching the water or a polo ball for a couple days makes you feel like you’ve never played the sport! It’s super important to keep your body ready to play the game at all times, which I believe you can do even with cross-training during down time. I also think sleep is extremely beneficial. Kaleigh Gilchrist was my teammate and roommate in 2016, and she used to make fun of me because I always wanted to be asleep early enough so I could get my eight hours in. It became a running joke, but you better know I made sure it happened. If I didn’t, I was already planning a nap. Sufficient rest and recovery simply becomes part of our routine during full-time and I believe is a major asset to fitness and training.

Lastly one of my favorite quotes is from the Marines—“The more you sweat in battle, the less you bleed in war.” I think of this in terms of training. If I can train/practice at the physical and mental level it takes to play in the highest pressured game, then I will be prepared physically and mentally.

J.P.: Can you still swim for fun? I mean, allllllll this time in the pool. If friends are going swimming, and they ask you to join, are you like, “Yes!” Or, “I’d rather eat rat poison”?

M.S.: Um, yes! Especially if it is in the ocean! Chlorine and water are simply part of my DNA at this point … not going to turn down an activity with friends. But I would suggest playing some water basketball instead.

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• Five coolest places water polo has taken you?: Rio, New Zealand, Budapest, Barcelona and Siberia (Not because of the place, but because, well, who else can say they’ve been to Siberia twice?)

• Grossest thing you’ve ever seen in a pool?: Throw up floating on the surface.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Tom Petty, Luke Walton, The Simpsons, UCLA, Amanda Longan, roller skating, Tom Hanks, “Orange is the New Black,” Dak Prescott, the number 18, Chipotle, Joe Biden, Barcelona, onion rings: Chipotle, Amanda Longan, Barcelona, Onion RingsTom Hanks, Luke Walton, Tom Petty, roller skating, Joe Biden, Dak Prescott, UCLA, The Simpsons, the number 18, “Orange is the New Black”

• One question you would ask Leon Spinks were he here right now?: Do you regret the rematch?

• Best advice you’ve ever received?: Both from my dad—“Always remember your last name” and “Strive to be amongst the best.”

• First thing you do when you wake up in the morning?: An aggressive and odd full body stretch/twitch while making a high-pitch dinosaur sound.

• Are farts more funny or embarrassing?: Funny.

• Best joke you know?: I have two: What do you call a Fish with no eyes? A FSHHHHHH! and What do you call a deer with no eyes? No Eye Deer (Saying these aloud are way more fun).

• Five reasons to make Danville, Cal. one’s next vacation destination?: 1. Great wildlife such as cows, wild turkeys, dee, and coyotes; 2. A bowling alley ready for any type of party; 3. Great hikes at every turn, where you will see lots of … dogs. 4. Fro-yo everywhere!; 5. The people! (OK, not all of those may be the best reasons, but they remind me of good ol’ Danville!)

• Most embarrassing moment of your life?: I’m not exactly sure of mine, but my nickname at my first swim club (from ages 2 to 5) was “Maggie Baggy Underpants.” Soooooo that’s something I hope I’m not called too often anymore.

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David Siegel

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A bunch of months ago, while appearing at a book festival in Green Bay, I found myself in a bar alongside a fellow author.

An organizer introduced us, and once David Sigel told me he was a firefighter who has had a book out, well, the book part faded into dust. A firefighter? A real fight fighter? Shit—I had questions.

Over the next two hours, I listened to a genuinely fascinating, decent man talk about duty, about honor, about saving lives and giving of oneself. It was riveting stuff, and when it was time to leave I said, “So, this is random, but would you be up for a Quiz Q&A?”

And here we are.

Along with his decades of fighting fires, David is a historian whose book, Forces of Change, delves deeply into the creation and development of the Green Bay Fire Department. Today, he explains what it is to fight a blaze, why the brotherhood between firefighters is unbreakable and why he would never step into a boxing ring with Aaron Rodgers.

David Siegel, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So David, I’m a big fan of money stories—meaning, the most memorable moments from a career. You’ve spanned the decades as a Green Bay firefighter. What’s your money story? The scariest moment? The most exciting moment? The craziest moment? In other words, what’s the story you would tell, if you could only tell one?

DAVID SIEGEL: I can’t answer this one to my satisfaction. The fire and EMS stories you’re asking for defy my ability to convey to non-firefighter/paramedics. There’s an old joke that somewhat explains this. What is the difference between a fairy tale and a fire-rescue story? A fairy tale starts out “Once upon a time,” whereas a fire-rescue story starts with, “OK, this is no shit.”

We’ve all had experiences that fit your criteria. I just can’t describe them to the point of justice. This is why so many relatives of combat veterans describe how their loved one never talked about the wars. Same with fire-rescue and law enforcement.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? Soup to nuts? Like, when did you know you wanted to fight fires for your career? Was there an ah-ha moment? A spark?

D.S.: I had a previous career after college and lived in a small town in southern Wisconsin. To impress a gorgeous woman, I joined the volunteer EMS agency. Initial “hands-on” training was done in the ER of a Madison hospital. The first patient I dealt with had shot himself through the roof of his mouth with a small caliber handgun. The bullet passed through the front and top of his brain, but was not immediately fatal. The nurse directed me to clean to blood from his face. I started to do so with a wet towel. The patient said it hurt and asked me to be more gentle. He was fully conscious and coherent. Though he later died from the damage, the first human I ever spoke to as a responder had been shot through the brain! The “spark” was when I realized just how difficult and challenging it was to do this. The bug was in my blood and within a few years I changed careers to become a firefighter/paramedic. And that is no shit.

J.P.: How do you explain the kinship of firefighters? It seems to cross geographic, age, ethnic, gender lines. Doctors don’t have it. Journalists don’t have it. What is it about firefighters?

D.S.: We’re like dogs, because we’re drawn to each other, though there’s a lot less sniffing. Much has to do with the fact that nobody else understands what we go through. Civilians just don’t understand what happens and words can’t express the reality. Additionally, our shifts are 24 hours long. We essentially live together and form a secondary family. That imparts a closeness and bond that doesn’t happen with nine to fiveers. Twice a day we eat together and that’s one of the ultimate family experiences, whether it’s blood or camaraderie.

J.P.: What’s the most misunderstood thing when it comes to your profession? What do we, the non-firefighters of the world, get wrong?

D.S.: The vast majority of our responses are for emergency medical services. Fires are much less frequent than just a few decades ago. EMS is now our bread-and-butter and this keeps us very busy.

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J.P.: I’m sure you guys get a ton of false calls, unnecessary calls. Cat in a tree, I can’t find my keys, etc … etc. Do those piss you off? Do you have to handle them a certain way? What’s your approach?

D.S.: More than false calls, it’s the misuse of emergency services. A tremendous segment of the population has no reluctance or compunction about calling for complete BS. They do not need to go to the ER or travel by ambulance, but could get their problem addressed by more routine appointments. These people are without consciousness or with absurd senses of entitlement. Some people have such profound social dysfunction they ignore right from wrong. They know what they’re doing, they just don’t care. For example, I’ve been called to a home to transport a person the hospital. They tell me they just left the hospital after waiting longer than they wanted. They thought that getting brought in by ambulance would move them to the front of the line! So, they leave the hospital, go home, call 911, get transported back to the same hospital. Ultimately they go back to the end of the line and get a citation for misuse of emergency services.

It’s aggravating to be taken advantage of and upsetting to know the ambulance is busy dealing with a BS call when someone could really use our help for a legitimate medical emergency. However, we commiserate with each other because we understand. Again, this is why we are drawn to each other. I imagine many readers are astounded this happens. It does and that’s no shit.

By the way, the cat in the tree thing is a total urban legend. Ever seen a cat skeleton in a tree? Of course not. They come down when they get hungry.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

D.S.: Greatest: I saved a baby’s life. A 3-month old baby was born with brain-fluid issues and had suffered seizures. It already had surgery to address this when the mother called 911 to report another seizure. There was definitely something wrong with the baby. However, I took a closer look and realized there was something “off” from a typical seizure. I tried ventilating the baby and immediately the baby spit out a plug of milk, took a deep breath and the crying began in earnest. The baby was choking on vomited milk … not a seizure. Because of the recent seizure and surgery history, the mother had tunnel vision. However, I kept my eyes and mind open and remembered an old adage, “Nothing is as it seems.” If I hadn’t cleared the airway, that baby would have choked to death.

Lowest: You’re asking me to put into words the worst thing I’ve ever gone through. I can’t do it justice, so I won’t try. This is why firefighters/paramedics are such a tight group. I could convey to them and they’d understand, but writing for civilians would prove inadequate.

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J.P.: You’re the author of a new book, “Forces of Change,” about the history of the Green Bay Fire Department. What would make someone dig deep into a fire department’s history? What was the craziest thing you found?

D.S.: I originally intended to write a short article, thinking it would be a simple, basic history. However, the early history of the Green Bay Fire Department is incredibly rich and fascinating. Most important, I found a clear trend in our history. Change never just happened. All the major changes occurred because major fires went horribly wrong. The fire department, community, newspapers and municipal authorities resolved never to allow these disasters to repeat, so the Green Bay Fire Department changed. This trend holds from creation in 1841 to the present. Most human endeavors change reactively, but with the fire service, the events are dramatic. Makes for a great story.

I discovered a previously unknown Green Bay Fire Department line-of-duty death. In February 1892, Hans Hansen died after being thrown from a horse-drawn host-cart that overturned at a corner. At that time, only those dying at the fire, directly due to the fire were considered a line-of-duty death—Hansen did not fit the criteria. Furthermore, his family buried him in an unmarked grave because they didn’t have enough money and the city provided just enough for the funeral. However, current fire department culture recognizes Hansen as a line-of-duty death and we considered the lack of recognition as intolerable. Therefore, as part of a formal fire department ceremony in July 2016, we dedicated a donated grave marker, about 124 years after he died. Hansen had no children nor did his only sibling. Consequently, finding living relatives proved unsuccessful. So the honor guard presented the folded American flag (typically given to family members) to the current Green Bay fire chief, representing his Green Bay Fire Department family. Now, Hans Hansen will never be forgotten again. Above all other aspects of this history project, I’m most proud of this.

J.P.: We spoke about the loneliness of the book signing event—four people, strange looks, awkwardness. You had some of these. What were they like for you? How’d you handle it? Because, Christ, it’s my least-favorite thing in the world.

D.S.: A total kick to the confidence and ego. When we met, you told be that because I’d been skunked at signings I’m “now officially an author,” which made me feel like I’d gone through a rite-of-passage. I’m grateful you shared that with me.

J.P.: You work a job where death is a very real possibility. When you approach a particularly big blaze, does that run through your head? Should it/should it not run through your head? Can a firefighter be successful and also fear death?

D.S.: I’ll borrow something from the military … you don’t fight for country and apple pie, you fight for the people next to you. What goes through my mind on every call is to do right by my comrade brothers and sisters … don’t screw up! It’s the benefit to having a pseudo-family, rather than a group of coworkers. This is true whether it’s a large blaze or a simple medical call. Do my job right for my people. First and foremost, I worry about their well-being.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Faye Dunaway, Sterling Sharpe, Chris Cornell, Oscar the Grouch, Ft. Lauderdale, raisins in your oatmeal, Tupac, Mike Pence, Bermuda shorts: Raisins in oatmeal, Oscar the Grouch, Faye Dunaway, Bermuda Shorts, Mike Pence, Sterling Sharpe, Tupac. Never been to Ft. Lauderdale and don’t know who Chris Cornell is (and resisted temptation to Google him).

• Five all-time favorite movies concerning firefighters?: Towering Inferno, Towering Inferno, Towering Inferno, Towering Inferno and Towering Inferno. All others are total crap. TV shows are even worse, except for Emergency from the 1970s. That one is great.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you an Aaron Rodgers? How does it end?: Really? A 33-year-old, 6-foot-2, 225 pounder versus a 52-year-old, 5-foot-11, 183 pounder. It doesn’t end because it would never have begun. Can we make this a one-on-one competition playing hockey?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Never had an incident with threat of a crash. As a side note, I always introduce myself to the flight crew as an off-duty paramedic and offer my help in case of an emergency. They love it and sometimes I get an extra bag of peanuts. Yes, I have had to help with medical problems mid-flight, once over the middle of the Atlantic.

• What’s the absolute grossest thing you’ve ever seen?: On a warm summer day, a neighbor checked on a man who lived alone and found him dead. He had died several days earlier while laying on a heated water bed. The weather and bed dramatically sped up the decomposition process and basically turned him into soup. We could smell him from the street as soon as we got out of the rigs. Everybody on the crew was gagging and all of us showered and changed uniforms back at the station. And that is no shit.

• Five reasons one should make Green Bay his/her next vacation destination?: A frequent misconception is that Green Bay is a very large city because there is a professional sports team here. However, we’re actually mid-sized with about 100,000 population in the city and similar number in the adjacent area. So, rather than five reasons, I’d say a visitor would experience the uniqueness of big city life emerging from a small town. Frequently there are deer, turkeys, foxes and skunks in my yard and there even are a couple of working farms within the city limits. LA got those?

• Why would anyone live in a city that hits negative 20 in winter?: Perspective. It makes the summers that much more enjoyable. It’s a cliché, but the change of seasons is a great experience.

• What are the keys to growing a kick-ass mustache?: Eastern European ancestry, don’t shave your upper lip and keep it groomed. I spend more time on my mustache than the hair on my head.

• I never much cared for Ben Seaver in Growing Pains. You?: I have never spent a moment of my life watching Growing Pains, but I suspect I haven’t missed anything.

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Rabbi Arnold Rachlis

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Rabbis believe in God.

I mean, that’s just the way it is. You ask a rabbi about a higher power, he/she will explain—in great detail—how God is in charge of all; how God led our people to safety; how God is looking after the Jews as a parent looks after a child. God knows all, and you must obey Him!

Wellllllllll …

Three years ago, shortly after our relocation from New York to California, the wife and I decided to join the University Synagogue in Irvine. We’d been members of a reconstructionist congregation in Westchester County, and the chill approach to religion appealed to us (Or, put different, I’m not a particularly involved Jew). What we found at University was a bunch of lovely people, a perfect-for-us hands-off dogmatic style, a fantastic Hebrew School run by an even better director and a rabbi who, well, didn’t believe in God.

Or, wait. Hold on. “Didn’t believe” isn’t quite right. Rabbi Arnold Rachlis’ position is that God is not a supreme being, per se, but the inspiration, creativity, conscience and consciousness that dwells within humanity. I’ve never heard him speak of God being angry, or annoyed, or frustrated. Nope—not once. Instead, his sermons focus on betterment, and helping others, and making a difference.

I dig that.

I also dig the non-pressure of the rabbi’s approach. As you’ll see below, he’s not begging (or guilting) me to attend synagogue. If you wanna go—please go. If you don’t, hey, it’s your time and your life. Use it wisely.

Anyhow, today’s 222nd Quaz is a spiritual man who A. Doesn’t insist he has all the answers; B. Loves a good award show and C. Prefers Scottie Pippen to David Bowie. One can visit the University Synagogue’s website here, and read the good rabbi’s blog here.

Rabbi Arnold Rachlis, you’ve blessed … as the new Quaz.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Rabbi, I’m gonna kick this off with a tremendously awkward question. About an hour ago I received an e-mail from you, asking if we’d like to take part in an upcoming Friday night service. And, to be completely blunt, I have no interest. I actually hate going to services. I hated going as a kid, as a teen, as a young adult, as a middle-aged adult. I don’t find service inspiring or interesting. I’m not moved. I don’t want to make new Jewish friends. I don’t want to join one of the chavurahs. It’s not about the rabbis, or the venue, or the music. I’m … just … not … interested. Being blunt—at this point in my life I see the synagogue’s value as a place for my kids to get three hours of weekend education. That’s pretty much it. So I wonder, as a rabbi, if this sorta pisses you off? If you understand it? If you view it as your job to change my mind? And, really, does it even matter?

ARNOLD RACHLIS: It’s not an awkward question. I try to make services as interesting as possible through relevant-to-life sermons, participatory music (often with a band), meditation, dance and discussion, but, even then, it’s OK not to be interested. I’m trying to attract people to a different kind of service, not make them feel guilty for not attending. I also have problems with the idea of prayer since I don’t believe in a supernatural God. Rather, for me and most Reconstructionist Jews, if God exists, we conceive of divinity as a force or power within human beings and the universe that moves us toward being loving and caring. There’s no God who commands, demands and punishes. Rather, this humanistic philosophy sees God not as a supreme being but as inspiration, creativity, conscience, consciousness and motivating us toward Tikkun Olam/repairing the world.

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J.P.: So you head a reconstructionist congregation—which fascinates me, because there’s this sorta, “Take what you want, ignore what you want” flow I’ve picked up from the movement. So how do you define reconstructionism? What separates it from reform or conservative? 

A.R.: In addition to our humanistic philosophy that I mentioned above, we focus on opportunities for human growth, not obedience; on affirming individuality, not prohibiting the actualization of the self; on choosing within Judaism and all cultures what’s meaningful to each person. We’re inclusive and equal—men and women, gay and straight, Jewishly learned and not, Jewish and not Jewish. We have lots of intermarried couples and even a few non-Jews not in a relationship with a Jew and all are welcome and fully integrated into our congregation, University Synagogue in Irvine, CA.

We also see Judaism as an evolving religious-cultural civilization, meaning that Jewish culture is as important as religion, that change is good and that each person—liberal believer, humanist, agnostic, atheist or whomever—needs to find his/her path within Judaism honestly and meaningfully. My role as a rabbi is to provide a roadmap within Judaism to help people find significance. My goal is not only to make Jews more meaningfully Jewish, but also more meaningfully human.

J.P.: I’m mental about death. I think about it almost every day, as this eternal nothingness that creeps closer and closer, and there’s nothing I can do to escape. I mean, it terrifies me. But how about you? How do you feel about it? Do you believe in an afterlife? Does it matter? 

A.R.: My father died when I was 11, so death has always been a part of my life. I don’t literally believe in an afterlife, but I do believe in “immortality” through deeds, genetics and physics. How we love, help and mentor people shapes an ever-widening future; our biological children keep our genetics eternally alive; naming children after deceased ancestors and telling them stories about whom they were named after keeps us alive in memory and, if matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed, but just transformed (e.g. ice to water to steam), then we are forever part of the “All” of the universe. We may not be distinct souls, but we are still here. I truly enjoy life, and the love of my wife and children. I hope that I’ve contributed value to the world and I’ve had a good time. So, I’m not afraid. Although I’d like to live a long time—in Judaism, we say: “may you live to be 120 years old”—I’m well prepared for fewer years.

J.P.: You’re somewhat outspoken politically. I mean, clearly you’re not pro-Trump, pro-wall, pro-a lot of what’s going on in America. But what’s the balance for clergy? Do you feel comfortable bringing politics to the pulpit? How far should a rabbi, priest, etc. go? 

A.R.: I bring ethics to the pulpit, not partisan politics. I wouldn’t endorse a candidate from the pulpit, but I do give money and sign ads and petitions as a private citizen. I want people to feel comfortable during services and not be worried that their candidate will be attacked by me. After President Trump’s election, we had a number of evenings devoted to examining our anxieties and hopes for the future with speakers who ranged from liberal to conservative. Everyone knows that my politics are liberal, that I worked in Washington, DC as a White House fellow and that I annually attend the political think tank Renaissance Institute, started by friends of the Clintons. We have hosted, at the synagogue, speakers from Gov. Michael Dukakis to Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, from Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) to GOP consultant Frank Luntz—a very broad spectrum of opinion.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? Like, was there a lightbulb moment when it came to being a rabbi? When did you first know this would be your path?

A.R.: My parents were immigrants; my father from Ukraine and my mother from Vienna. Both became successful physicians in Philadelphia after fleeing anti-Semitism. America saved their lives. My mother, especially, instilled in me a love of America and a hatred against injustice. She worked hard for civil rights, treated African-Americans with dignity and had a lifelong interest in Jewish history and ideas. I have, in a way, followed in her footsteps. Also, as a student at the University of Pennsylvania, I became inspired by the depth of Jewish philosophy and ethics and decided to become neither a physician nor a lawyer (my original choices). After college, I entered the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and simultaneously a graduate program in World Religions.

J.P.: I feel like every profession comes with an absolute must-tell-at-parties money story. I dunno—a drunk uncle ruins the Bar Mitzvah story, etc, etc. So, Rabbi, what’s yours? 

A.R.: I really don’t have a funny religious story, although “Shaky the Mohel” is one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes! Rather, I love that the rabbinate has afforded me unusual integrative opportunities that have brought together my human and Jewish lives. The founder of Reconstructionism, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, spoke of “living in two civilizations” as American Jews. I’ve had a diverse rabbinic life—one of two rabbis to ever be a White House fellow, winning an improv comedy championship at Second City in Chicago, traveling the world, meeting and studying with Nobel Prize winners, political figures, academicians, artists, actors and composers at the Renaissance Institute, being the subject of a documentary film and recently attending the Tony Awards. I’m curious about so many things other than Judaism and I’ve been able to integrate all of those interests with my Judaism and offer that synthesis to my congregation through the years.

 J.P.: A congregant dies. You’re the rabbi. What do you do? What’s the approach? What are you supposed to do? And how hard was that to learn/adapt early in your career? 

A.R.: My early experience of the death of my father created not just pain and loss, but also empathy. I never have to feign caring—at a funeral, wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah or naming. I really do care. I always feel privileged to enter the “sacred space” of a family in celebration or mourning. It’s what I find to be most meaningful in my work as a rabbi. I never had to learn how to do it. I’m just there, in the moment. I listen, and then I speak, offering condolences in the face of death or “mazel tov” for life’s blessings.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

A.R.: There’s no one greatest or lowest moment. Seeing the admiration from my children for what I do—a vocation that helps people, educates them, consoles them, enhances their celebrations and gives them a respect, love and pride in their Jewish identities—that’s at the top. One son is a lawyer and the other an actor and neither has an interest in the rabbinate—but both are proud and knowledgeable Jews and fine people. Some of that, I think and hope, comes from what I do professionally. Among the lowest moments are when I have to spend precious time convincing people that they should trust my instincts, experience and knowledge. I may be wrong, but I want to experiment, try to make changes and see if new ideas work.

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J.P.: Do you ever do weddings and your gut says, “This marriage just isn’t gonna work?” And, if you have concerns, is there any moral obligation to say something? To step in? 

A.R.: Twice in the hundreds of weddings I’ve done, I’ve felt that something was deeply wrong. Once, I told the couple that they should postpone getting married and go into counseling to work things out. They left my office immediately, furious at me and even left a phone message later saying that Rabbi X thought that they were just fine and was going to marry them. The other time, I brought up delaying to the couple; they disagreed; I performed the wedding thinking that perhaps I was being presumptuous and they divorced within a year.

J.P.: A lot of people (myself included) are losing boatloads of sleep over Donald Trump’s actions, from environmental to legal to … on and on. So what are we supposed to do? How do we ease our minds without turning off our antennas? In short, how do we survive?

A.R.: Having lived through Watergate, I agree with John Dean and Carl Bernstein—this Presidency is “worse than Watergate.” The offensive rhetoric of the campaign and the possible collusion with Russia have poisoned even further our already fractured politics. So going to marches, demanding action from Congress, getting involved in the 2018 and 2020 elections, financially supporting progressive organizations and advocating for the importance of honest journalism are crucial. Also, we need to understand why so many people in this country are frustrated and angry and voted for Trump. They didn’t vote for a true Republican; they voted for a protest candidate. What can Democrats and the GOP truly learn from that anger and will they find responsible ways to address these concerns, offering normative, conventional, informed and decent leaders?

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• One question you would ask Lil Uzi Vert were he here right now?: “What did you like most about Philly where you and I came from?”

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Only once, when the breathing masks dropped, the plane was badly shaking, people were screaming and, even though I was anxious, I didn’t panic. I breathed deeply and meditatively and looked for the exits.

• This is my all-time favorite song. What do you think?: With due respect … I prefer some of the other Woodstock era performers, especially folk, pop and soul from the late sixties.

• In exactly 16 words, can you make a case for California pizza?: Not as traditional as New York or Chicago, but more experimental—a perfect metaphor for California.

• Global warming terrifies me, yet most people don’t seem to care. What the hell are we supposed to do?: Spread more awareness, do more small acts around the house and lawn to build consciousness, support candidates and organizations that are fighting for the planet, advocate for science over narrow business interests, and widespread ignorance.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Marco Rubio, Nick Cage, David Bowie, Scottie Pippen, “The Martian,” award shows, strawberry ice cream, “Zoolander,” Jojo Moyes, Martin Lawrence, the number 44: Award shows, Zoolander, The Martian, Scottie Pippen, 44, Nick Cage, strawberry ice cream, David Bowie, Jojo Moyes, Martin Lawrence and Marco Rubio.

• What word do you overuse in your sermons?: “Finally”

• On Facebook, I tend to block all the arch-conservative wingnuts from my high school. Then I get ripped for it. What to do?: Be kind and patient. Forward articles to them. Don’t get overly involved emotionally.

• Your wife is the congregation’s cantor. How did you guys meet?: At the synagogue. Colleagues first, then friends and now the luckiest guy in the world!

• What are your three favorite Yiddish words/expressions?: “Mazel tov”—colloquially “congratulations,” which means that you’re at a “simcha”/happy event. “Mentsch”—one of the best words in any language – a humane, honorable and decent human being. “Schmooze”—to be with people, sharing your life, through the joy of small talk.

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Catherine Pearlman

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Soooooooooo …

I’ve Quazed friends before.

I’ve Quazed family members before.

I’ve Quazed one of my musical idols, I’ve Quazed a Nazi, I’ve Quazed my high school tormentor, I’ve Quazed a guy whose name is Wildstar and a woman whose name is Venus. I’ve Quazed people with tons of tattoos, people with addictions to video games, people with two presidents as relatives.

I’ve Quazed 320 times before today.

But this is different.

This is personal.

Catherine Pearlman is the most decent human I know, which works out quite well because, hey, we’re married. She’s compassionate, she’s big-hearted, she’s devoted her life to assisting others—be it as a director in a youth homeless shelter, as the head of a summer camp for disadvantaged kids, as a family coach who goes into homes and helps mothers and fathers solve their parenting difficulties. She also happens to be the best parent I’ve seen, which helps explain this week’s arrival of her first book, “Ignore It: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction.”

I know … I know—I’m biased. No doubt. But if you’re a mother or father, and you need to figure out how to raise your children while simultaneously maintaining sanity, Catherine’s work is biblical. Again, I’m not speaking solely as a reader. I’m speaking as a daily witness.

Anyhow, today Catherine (aka: The Family Coach) explains why ignoring our children is wise, why iPhone management is key and why (preach!) Dr. Drew is little more than a fraud.

You can visit her website here and follow her on Twitter here and Facebook here. And Ignore It! can be ordered here.

Catherine Pearlman—mother of my kids—you’re the 321st Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN.: You have a book coming out called “Ignore It!” And it’s great and wonderful and I love it. But, because we’re married and I’m the father to your two kids, I know there are occasions when you haven’t ignored it. So, in that regard, would you say ignoring it is easier said (or written) than done? Is it REALLY possible to perfectly adhere to your advice?

CATHERINE PEARLMAN: Ha! Ignoring children who are pushing our buttons is the hardest thing to do. I’m not a perfect parent, and I don’t believe anyone is. I am human with feelings and, at times, I’m tired, frustrated and upset. It’s during those times I’m not at my best as a parent. I engage when I shouldn’t or I get angrier than is necessary. But being a good parent means learning as you go. I try to learn from my mistakes so the next time my child pushes that very same button I have the wherewithal to ignore it.

In Ignore It! I advise parents to think of their triggers, the times when their kids get the best of them. I also recommend for parents to think about what part of their day is the most difficult for them. It is possible to learn how to ignore someone calling you names or whining and complaining. It takes practice. But once kids see that none of their tactics will give them what they desire, they quickly decide to give it up. And when parents see this change in their kids they gain more strength to continue to Ignore It! in the future.

With our daughter Casey back in the day (painting by Greg Kuppinger)

With our daughter Casey back in the day (painting by Greg Kuppinger)

J.P.: Our son enters sixth grade next year, and he’ll have a phone. And it’ll likely be an iPhone of some sort. And while I understand this, I also think—from a purely logical standpoint—it’s insane. He’ll be 11, with access to pretty much everything and anything. I mean, forget just porn and violent film clips. I’m talking neo-Nazi websites, ISIS recruiting videos, on and on and on. So why is this OK? And how, as a country, has this become acceptable parenting turf?

C.P.: Our son will not have access to anything and everything on the Internet from his phone. He will have restrictions and parental controls. Also, even if our son watched a Nazi or ISIS recruiting videos he isn’t going to become a terrorist. I feel confident on this one.

Nowadays, there really is nothing stopping middle school children from Googling whatever they want. If we put all sorts of restrictions on our son’s phone or even if we don’t give him one, he will likely have access on one of his friend’s phones. I can’t guarantee that other parents will be as conscientious as we are. Furthermore, nothing creates greater interest than banning something. Look at what happened recently with 13 Reasons Why. I believe we have to teach kids Internet responsibility at a young age. I’ve explained to both our kids that anything they view online cannot be unseen or unlearned. They need to use caution and common sense. We’ve also made it clear that they can, and should, come to us when they see something disturbing or if they have questions about anything. They won’t be in trouble for looking something up. It’s better to open the communication than punish them for their curiosity.

cap on tv set

J.P.: You don’t think of yourself as a writer. You’ve never written a book, you have no journalism background. So why do this? I mean, writing is torturous and hellish and not all that fun. So, eh, why? And how did you feel about the process in and of itself? Sitting down, putting words on page?

C.P.: I consider myself a social worker who now writes. It might be a long time until I see myself as a writer, even though I’ve written a book and am a weekly columnist. My mission in my practice and writing is to help parents enjoy their children and parenting experience more. I hate seeing parents beaten down by the job. After working with hundreds of families I found myself giving one piece of advice to every parent no matter the reason for the consultation. Parents are dealing with a plethora of unpleasant behavior and one small piece of advice can make a huge improvement. I wanted to be able to share the Ignore It! philosophy with more parents so I decided to write it all down in the book.

The writing process was arduous and great at the same time. Writing for hours a day, every day, is draining. It’s really hard day after day to keep focused. By the end I was exhausted. But I was also insanely proud of myself. I wrote a book that came mostly from my brain. I didn’t do a ton of research or interviewing to write this book. I wrote what I know and teach every day so in some ways this was an easier book to write. All in all, though, the experience was incredibly satisfying.

J.P.: When we met you ran a youth homeless shelter in New York City. You were this very short, very young-and-innocent-looking person dealing with kids from all sorts of tough backgrounds with all sorts of pasts; troubles; complications. How did you land that gig? What made you qualified—I don’t mean simply on paper, but temperament, judgment, wisdom, demeanor? And what’s your best story from the experience?

C.P.: Growing up I planned on being a doctor because I wanted to help people. As a child I was never exposed to a social worker so I didn’t even know of the profession. When I went to college I majored in History of Medicine and took the pre-med track. But I struggled with the mess and gore of medicine, and I wasn’t enjoying biology or physics much. In one of my sociology classes I was exposed to social work, and I never looked back. Social work is about improving the well-being of all people with a special emphasis on the most marginalized, vulnerable and poor among us. Social workers aim to end discrimination, poverty and social injustice. That’s exactly what I wanted to do. I applied to a master’s program during my senior year, was accepted and graduated with a MSW two years later.

After graduation I worked for 10 months as an office temp while applying to hundreds of jobs. Eventually I was hired in the Rites of Passage program at Covenant House, a homeless shelter for youth. My job was to manage a unit of 18-to-21-year-old young men. I was only 24 at the time. While some of these guys were gang members, drug users or hardened from years on the streets, they were still people who deserved their dignity and my respect. I learned in that job how to de-escalate a crises and how to keep my calm at all times.

Today, with the excess of police violence, I often think of my time at Covenant House. Most of those guys outweighed me by 100+ pounds. My only weapons were my body language and my words. Those often very angry guys were able to see that I cared about them. Sadly, for some, it was the first time in their lives where someone actually cared about them, asked them about their day, helped them find a job or obtain training. I showed them empathy, I listened and I cared. Those qualities can’t be taught in a school. You have them or you don’t.

I did learn a lot of skills in social work school. But it was the on-the-job training and my ability to look at my actions to constantly improve my work that made me qualified. I’ve been working in the field for 20-plus years, and I’m still learning, analyzing myself and growing as a professional. Being qualified is a life-long process. I hope I’m never finished.

book arrives

J.P.: We live in Southern California, where youth sports—in my opinion—reign in an unhealthy way. They’re the everything of everything; the obsessions of many; the killers of family togetherness. So, well, what should we do? If my kid loves baseball, and he wants to play 24/7, isn’t that OK? Or if my daughter has unbelievable hoops talent, and we think she can get a DI scholarship, why shouldn’t it be pushed as far and hard as possible?

C.P.: When children devote all of their out-of-school time to one endeavor (sports, music, dance), there is an opportunity cost. That means that while the child is busy enjoying intense activity in one area, another area is being unexplored. I think parents forget that childhood comes only once. Kids have one opportunity to discover what they enjoy and sometimes I wonder if it’s wasted on the singlemindedness of the current obsession. I only know I love camping and sailing and water skiing because I had a chance to do those activities at an all-around camp. I grew up playing the piano and loved it. I still do. But I didn’t spend hours upon hours practicing. I played, enjoyed it, and also did other activities I enjoyed like volleyball, tennis and art. Of course there are prodigies and children whose talents will become a career someday. I don’t believe most children fit into this category. Parents are living out their hopes and aspirations through their children and the children are the ones who end up on the losing end of that proposition. And all of the time spent “playing” is taking time away from families spending time together. I absolutely cherish the dinners and weekends our family is all together. When the sports schedule has 10-year olds playing until 8 pm and high schoolers spending more than three hours on the field every day I think a vital aspect of family life is lost.

Getting a college scholarship is important for many children. However, the vast majority of parents who are signing their kids up for three leagues at once, hiring private coaches, training all year round and creating the 24/7 mentality would be better off putting their money in a savings account to be used for a college in the future. Additionally, I have grave concerns about what the intensity of youth sports is doing to children’s bodies. Damage done in childhood is often not seen until adulthood. Pitching too many games, six-day-a-week practices with pads in football, micro concussions, running programs that have 11-year olds doing marathons all concern me.

J.P.: What’s the absolutely craziest thing you’ve seen in your career as a social worker? The moment/action/whatever that blew your mind?

C.P.: I have seen so many amazing moments in my career but also incredibly sad moments, too. I don’t think anything blew my mind though. Being a social worker often means meeting people in their worst moments, the day they hit rock bottom, the day they become homeless, the day their child is removed from their home, the moment they realize they need Hospice. It’s painful to witness so much pain. Often there isn’t a moment where you get to see how it all works out for clients. They come into your life, they stay as long as they want or a program allows, and then they are gone. There isn’t always a goodbye or a happy departure. Sometimes life for clients becomes a lot worse before it gets better. But we don’t get to see their success. So whenever I do have a chance to see someone’s moment of improvement, big or small, I cherish those memories.

I’ve seen a young girl whose father raped her and gave her HIV obtain a job and move into her own home. I’ve seen a young man with schizophrenia, depression and drug addiction work incredibly hard to stay on his medication and safe. I’ve been able to witness hundreds of nontraditional college students graduate with their social work degree after battling poverty, illness, family issues, taking care of relatives while also working full time jobs. I’ve seen incredible resilience on the front lines, and I’m grateful to those people for always reminding me that truly anything is possible with the right support and determination.

J.P.: Your book is based around a philosophy—“ignore.” But is there truly a such thing as an original philosophy? I mean, you can’t possibly be the first family coach/social worker to advise people to ignore bad behavior. So what makes you unique? What makes this advice yours, per se?

C.P.: That fact that Ignore It! isn’t an original idea gives me great peace of mind. It’s based on many high-quality research studies performed by a variety of researchers. As a social worker it is important to me to have veracity in my advice. I have to know something is going to help or at least is backed by evidence-based practice.

One of my abilities as a family coach is to take research and break it down into practical bites of information for parents. That’s what I’ve done in Ignore It!. I’ve taken well-respected psychological concepts (extinction and reinforcement) and given them a modern practical twist. I added tons of anecdotes from parents who I’ve worked with to help moms and dads implement the advice. The voice in my book is mine. The way I write about the concepts and advise parents how to use them is all me. People who know me who have read an advanced copy say they hear my voice very clearly in the book. My personality, my sensibilities and philosophies and my advice is front and center in this book.

J.P.: You spent a summer working at a sleepaway camp for disadvantaged children—and it was an absolute shit show. What happened? What do you remember? And why did it bother you so much?

C.P.: Actually I spent several summers working at camps for disadvantaged youth. The first one was in England while a was a college student. That camp experience changed my life and afterward I changed my career from being a medical doctor to a social worker.

But one summer I worked at a camp for homeless children from New York City. I’ve worked at many types of camps, and I think camp can do a world of good for all children regardless of socioeconomic status. But the particular camp you mention upset me because it was dangerous and completely chaotic. The day before the start of camp the director quit. Days later the chef quit. The camp was left in the hands of a young and inexperienced assistant director. The nonprofit that ran the camp stopped paying bills so supplies like milk, food and laundry detergent stopped arriving. Imagine running a camp for 100  homeless kids without food and laundry. Some children didn’t have blankets after nighttime accidents and some never had pillows. Counselors quit every day because the conditions were deplorable. I refused to quit that awful job because I felt that these kids deserved my time even though the company didn’t. I ended being so upset about what was happening at the camp that I wrote a searing letter about the realities of camp life. Then you helped me overnight those letters to the homes of the board members. The very next day supplies and staff arrived. I made it through that summer, but it was one of the hardest of my career.

I was incensed and infuriated about that camp because homeless kids deserve more, not less. That camp was a throwaway, total crap. It was shocking that an organization that did so much for homeless families would run such a shoddy camp.

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J.P.: You don’t like to get into politics too much, but I want to ask—you believe in decency, in setting examples, in positivity, etc. Yet we have a president who doesn’t exactly place decorum atop his priority list. Do you see this resulting in any genuine harm? Or are we making much to do about nothing?

C.P.: I’m not going to comment on the president because I prefer to stay apolitical in public forums. Life is full of hardship, struggle and moments of indecency. Parents should try to keep that from young children as much as possible. However, I do feel that news stories and politics should be shared with children on an age-appropriate level at times. Kids hear all kinds of information (sometimes inaccurate) on the playground at school. Parents should make sure to discuss public issues with children to help them understand and cope with current events. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to give their opinions on politics, but leave room for kids to find their own viewpoints and takes. Use these events are ways to open up dialog and communication but be mindful of giving kids more than they are ready to handle.

J.P.: You have a really big problem with folks like Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Dr. Drew. Why? What’s your beef?

C.P.: Doctors, psychologists, social workers and therapists all have a code of ethics that is fundamental to the integrity of the work we do. Doing no harm to patients might be the most important principle to which all people in the helping professions must adhere. Because of an inherent power differential, doctors and therapists must also take great care not to take advantage of vulnerable people. Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Dr. Drew all very clearly use defenseless and exposed people for their own gain. There is a horrific conflict of interest, and it disgusts me.

Here’s just one example. Last year, Dr. Phil interviewed the actress Shelly Duvall, who was in the middle of a psychotic episode. It was clear to anyone who works in the field. And yet, Dr. Phil paraded her on television under the guise of helping her get treatment. Why not just help her find treatment? Throughout the entire interview he repeatedly asked her if she wanted to consent to treatment. She could not provide that consent, which means she also couldn’t provide a credible consent to be on his show.

Dr. Oz peddles products that have no evidenced-based benefit. A study by the BMJ showed that only half of Dr. Oz’s recommendations have any scientific support and worse, some advice was actually against research of best practices. What’s the big deal? Well, people look up to these doctors and trust their advice. When the Dr. Ozs of the world recommend unproven remedies for serious conditions, viewers may not seek proper treatment or may distrust the advice of their own qualified doctors. These TV “doctors” are trusted and revered by millions of Americans. They aren’t just damaging the unlucky few who are guests on their shows. They are potentially damaging viewers in unknown ways with their poor medical and psychologist advice.

Dr. Drew might be the worst of the bunch. He is the most opportunistic professional I see on television. I cannot watch him without wanting to throw heavy objects within arm’s reach at the TV. His Celebrity Rehab show has had five former cast members die from drug-related causes. Sure, he takes people with an existing addiction and tries to help them. Some people might say he does his best with people who were already at risk. But that’s the point. People at risk shouldn’t be treated on television. No responsible psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker would recommend a person with drug addiction or debilitating mental illness join a reality program. The death toll shows these people needed real care, not to have their problems displayed for the world. The worst part is that Dr. Drew, Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil all get paid handsomely for acting like the lowest in their professions. What’s the lesson there?



• Rank in order (favorite to least): my crockpot chicken, Bill Parcells, Alison Cimmet, Guns n Roses, Woodmere, N.Y., Petco Park, The Moth, Mookie Wilson, Pollo Loco, “Captain Fantastic,” Diamond Jamboree: Alison Cimmet (by a mile), Diamond Jamboree, The Moth, Mookie Wilson, “Captain Fantastic”, your crockpot chicken (you beat Pollo Loco. But if you said Pollo Tropical you would have been out of luck), Woodmere, NY, El Pollo Loco, Guns n Roses, Petco Park, Bill Parcells

• You never go in the swimming pool. Why?: I do swim but only if it’s 90+ degrees and the pool is heated. I don’t like be cold.

• One question you would ask Cameron Diaz were she here right now?: Would you like to join us on Sunday for dinner?

• Five all-time favorite Hall & Oates songs: In no particular order: Rich Girl, She’s Gone, Fall in Philadelphia, Georgie, Had I Known You Better

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Snooki? What’s the result?: I’d actually like to see that fight. Well, I was going to give it to Snooki because she’s 16 years younger than I am. But she’s a mere 4-foot-8. I’ll go with Pearlman for the win in six embarrassing rounds.

• Your maiden name is Guggenheimer. Give me all the ways that nightmare was misspelled: I loved the name Guggenheimer and was always proud of my family’s pickle legacy. But I hated people mispronouncing my name more than misspelling it. To this day it’s important for me to say someone’s name correctly.

• Five reasons one should make New Rochelle, N.Y. his/her next vacation destination: 1. 30 minutes on the train to the greatest city in the world (Yes, I am totally biased.); 2. Incredible people from the most diverse backgrounds. It’s truly a melting pot and a special place; 3. The Pain to Paine half marathon on the Leatherstocking Trail; 4. See where E.L. Doctorow wrote Ragtime, Norman Rockwell and Lou Gehrig lived briefly and find Mariano Rivera hanging out at the local Starbucks; 5. Visit the cutest children’s library in America.

• In exactly 17 words, make an argument for that classic Elton John song, “Made in England.”There can be no argument but it’s crazy he said the words “made in England” eighteen times.

• Four advantages to being just 5-feet tall?: 1. I can scrunch up and sit comfortably in an airplane or train; 2. My clothes are small, and I can fit more in a suitcase; 3. I look up to everyone; 4. People mistake being short for being young so often people think I’m much younger than I am.

• The president after Donald Trump will be …: Better.

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Jamal Greene

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Back in the late-1990s, when I was somewhat on the rise at Sports Illustrated, a kid came along who made me feel awfully ordinary.

Jamal Greene was quiet and soft spoken, which didn’t do a person particularly well at the magazine. But if one paid close attention, he realized he was in the presence of a brilliant young scribe. Jamal was was a skilled writer and an even more impressive observer. Baseball was his sport, and he looked at the game from an intellectual level that I often failed to master. Although many of us were territorial and protective of our places at the magazine, I was certain this Jamal Greene fella was destined to be a star.

Alas, some editors failed to see it that way. For reasons I’ll never fully understand, a handful of power brokers determined that Jamal couldn’t cut it at SI. To my dismay, he ultimately left, destined to a wayward life of ambition-less hardship and meaninglessness.

Orrrrr … he’d graduate from Yale Law, then become one of America’s leading legal minds.

These days, Jamal serves as Columbia Law School’s Dwight Professor of Law, where he focuses on the structure of legal and constitutional argument. He has penned dozens of law review articles and can regularly be heard speaking on issues related to the Supreme Court.

In the 320th Quaz Q&A,  Jamal’s discusses his brother (Talib Kweli, the hip-hop superstar), his president (“generally sociopathic disposition”) and his willingness to endure the music of Bananarama. One can read more about Jamal here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Jamal Greene, to hell with SI, to hell with Columbia. You are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Jamal, you’re the Dwight Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, and you focus on the structure of legal and constitutional argument. Lately there’s been growing national dialogue on whether our democracy, our government can survive the Trump Administration. Or, to be blunt, I’m sorta terrified that something is fundamentally changing in a very bad way. What says you?

JAMAL GREENE: I am less worried about the Administration itself than what Trump’s election says about American democracy. Although many of the specific actions Trump has taken were not predictable, his intellect, his temperament, his history of scams and failures, his mendacity, his sexism and racism, and his generally sociopathic disposition were all well-known at the time of his election. He beat a distinguished (if boring) public servant. Any nation whose electoral process can legitimately elect Trump under those circumstances is one whose politics are broken at the core. We will survive Trump—I doubt he serves a full term—but someone like Trump, or worse, is in our future unless we become less polarized and fractured as a people. We have actually gotten lucky that Trump is incompetent. Our luck may run out with the next demagogic candidate. I am not optimistic.

J.P.: We first met in the late 1990s, when you worked as a reporter at Sports Illustrated. And I always thought you were done wrong at the magazine; that you were this young kid with oodles of talent who wasn’t given an opportunity. Looking back, I wonder how you feel? And what did you take from your time there?

J.G.: I appreciate the sentiment but I have a different view. I think there are things I am talented at, but I don’t think being a sports reporter was one of them. I have always liked to write, but I didn’t much like the reporting part, which is the meat of the job. I didn’t enjoy talking to athletes and agents, building relationships, or chasing stories, and I wasn’t good at it. I was an unreformed introvert in a job that doesn’t reward introversion.

I agree that I had a fairly short leash at the magazine—that is, there are folks there who gave up on me relatively early in my short career there (in addition to many who didn’t)—but I think they made the right call and I have no resentment at all. In fact, I have very fond memories of and great respect for the people I got to work with at SI. The fact that I enjoy my current work and unquestionably made the right decision for me in leaving gives me the luxury of having no resentment, but I think I’m right on this. Legal academia is a better fit for my skill set.

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J.P.: From the little-known-fact department: Your brother is Talib Kweli, the famous hip-hop artist. I find this ludicrously fascinating; the widely divergent paths of siblings. What was your relationship growing up? What is it now? Did you see this coming for him? Would he say he saw it coming for you?

J.G.: My brother and I lead very different lives but the view from the outside looks more divergent than the view from the inside. We were very close growing up, right up until he was about 11 or 12 (he’s two years older). That was the point at which we started going to different schools. He went to a magnet school in Fort Greene, which was then a gang-riddled neighborhood. I went to a school for mostly nerds on the Upper East Side. He got into hip hop and I got into Harvard. The worlds each of us live in have very different norms, different pressures—he is constantly on the road—and different measures of success, and so the paths we have traveled have led us apart. But we have always gotten along and share the same basic set of values. It is fair to say that I did not expect him to be an internationally renowned hip hop artist, because who has those expectations for anyone? I have no idea whether he is surprised that I am a law professor, but I would guess not. I was always comfortable in academic environments, much more than I am outside of them.

J.P.: In 2006-07 you were a clerk for John Paul Stevens. We always hear “so-and-so clerked for so-and-so,” but I don’t think I’ve ever thought about what it actually is to clerk for a justice. So what is it to clerk for a justice? What does it entail? And what can you tell me about Stevens? What is he like, just as a guy?

J.G.: Law clerks are the substantive right hands of a judge. Typically, they write memos informing the judge about the issues in the case, they offer recommendations, they act as sounding boards, they draft opinions. Clerks are (almost) never final decisionmakers, at least not at the Supreme Court level, but they often play a substantial role in framing issues and facts and so can end up very influential.

I think the influence of clerks with Justice Stevens was less than for almost any of his colleagues, for the simple reason that he structured the job to ensure that that was true. The main jobs of Supreme Court law clerks are three: (1) to screen cert petitions, which are applications to have a case heard by the Court, (2) to help prepare the judge for cases on the Court’s docket, and (3) to help write opinions.

Justice Stevens was, at the time I clerked for him, the only Justice who had his own clerks individually screen every one of the 8,000 or so petitions. The others participated in what is called the “cert pool,” where clerks from all of the eight participating chambers draft a memo on petitions that is shared with the participating chambers. Justice Stevens did not want his decisions to be influenced by the pool memos, so he didn’t participate. He also didn’t want his decisions to be influenced too much by his clerks, so when we thought a petition was important, he just wanted us to flag it for him very briefly—no elaborate memos—so that he could look at it with fresh eyes. On case preparation, most judges ask their clerks to write a lengthy “bench memo” describing the issue in the case, the lower court opinions, the arguments in the briefs, and a recommended outcome. Justice Stevens did not want any bench memo. He prepared for cases on his own and would just have an oral conversation with the clerk assigned to a given case some time before the case was argued. Again, he wanted to ensure his own independent thinking. On opinions, he always wrote the first draft of opinions. I’m pretty sure he was the only Justice who did that as a matter of principle. Personally, Justice Stevens is about the kindest, most humble, and most delightful brilliant person one can imagine. I doubt you would find anyone who has ever met him who would say otherwise.

J.P.: I know you’re from New York, I know attended Harvard, then Yale Law—but why this path? Why law? Why constitutional law? Did you have an ah-ha moment as a kid or teen? A light bulb moment? In short, why are you here?

J.G.: I didn’t know I wanted to be a legal scholar until after I started law school. For most of college, I wanted to be a journalist, and I put in a lot of hours at The Harvard Crimson trying to make that possible. I took the LSAT exam my senior year of college—after I already had my SI job lined up—just as a backup. Those scores were valid for five years.

I told myself that if I didn’t see a promising career in journalism in the next three years, I would go to law school. And that’s basically what happened. I think 9/11 pushed me a little bit—I just stopped caring about sports. Plus, as you’ll recall, SI underwent some changes after the AOL-Time Warner merger that made the product more sensationalist and pandering than it was before. That rubbed me the wrong way and made me feel like I just needed a fresh start. Law was something with some real intellectual content that also opened some possibilities for gainful employment.

Once I got to law school, I knew by my second year that I wanted to teach. The biggest thing for me, as a former journalist for a big magazine, was that I could write what I wanted and how I wanted to write it. A standard legal academic article is 25,000 words. You write the argument you want to write about until you think the argument is finished. No boss. No subscriber. The tradeoff is you get a lot fewer readers. I’m still searching for the middle ground between that and a 400 word article on the Brewers second baseman’s tattoos, but I like where I am right now.

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J.P.: You wrote “The Age of Scalia” for the Harvard Law Review, and he’s one of the judges who truly fascinates me. I remember when he died, I was at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah and someone—inappropriately­—let out a yelp of glee. He was so beloved by one side, so abhorred by the other. But how do you view his ultimate legacy and impact?

J.G.: I recommend anyone read the article for the full picture, but in brief, I think his legacy is multifaceted. He was very influential among legal scholars. He is the single person most responsible for the prominence of originalism—the idea that the Constitution means the same thing now as when enacted—and that has generated a huge scholarly literature. He also had a very charismatic and sharp writing style that has given his ideas a greater reach into the broader culture than any of his contemporaries on the bench. On the court, he has been an important interlocutor on issues of statutory and constitutional interpretation, and his dissents were justly feared. He made his colleagues better, which is a pretty nice legacy.

That said, his impact ended up somewhat limited by the fact that he promoted relatively uncompromising positions. Legal interpretation at the Supreme Court level is messy and is beset by lots of reasonable disagreement. You just can’t get that far by being doctrinaire about methods. Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts have gotten further in less time because they are more flexible.

J.P.: How is it OK for Clarence Thomas to never ask questions? I know that sounds simplistic, and perhaps it is, but I’m always bewildered by this. Is it a lack of curiosity? A love of listening? A preference for silence?

J.G.: I have defended Justice Thomas’s silence in the past and I will continue to do so. He has said that he doesn’t talk because he wants to hear the lawyers speak. Although I think that reason probably doesn’t justify almost never speaking, I think it is a generally sensible position to take—especially for him—that I wish more of the Justices took.

It’s important to bear in mind that oral argument matters but is far from the most important input into a Supreme Court decision. Most of the decisions get worked out based on the written briefs. If you listen to arguments from the 1980s and earlier, you hear lawyers explaining their positions to the Justices, often for minutes at a time, with occasional questions from the bench. Arguments today are dominated by rapid-fire questioning from the eight Justices other than Thomas. It is common, even expected, that lawyers will not be able to answer questions they receive from one Justice because they are interrupted mid-answer by a different Justice. This is no way to hear a serious constitutional argument, in my view. And since eight people interrupting each other is quite enough, I respect Thomas for deciding not to be the ninth. I say it is an especially sensible position for Thomas to take because his views are so often on the margins of the case, and he tends to be quite uncompromising. Oral argument is most useful for the Court to work through a set of precedents that Thomas often ignores or is uninterested in because of his particular philosophy.

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J.P.: This is sorta random, but you’re a law professor at one of the finest institutions in the world. You have the best, the brightest, the sharpest, the most accomplished. And I wonder—do you see social media impacting your students in negative (or positive) ways? I mean, I just teach journalism, and I’m eternally forcing students to put their phones away, to get off Twitter, Snapchat, etc. Is that even an issue for you?

J.G.: Many of my colleagues ban laptops from class in order to avoid having distracted students. I respect this position, especially since the distraction can be a distraction for other students as well, e.g., the ones sitting behind the “offender.” Still, I don’t ban laptops myself. I teach adult students who need to have the judgment to know when they need to pay attention to me. I doubt most of them can do well in my class while distracted, but I feel like it’s their decision to make. I warn them in advance about it, but I don’t go further than that. It might be somewhat less of a problem in law school than in other schools, since we cold call students, but I have no doubt that students sometimes tune out. I think we’re too far into the social media age for me to put the genie in the bottle during my class. My job as a teacher is to make class more valuable than its alternatives.

J.P.: How are we supposed to feel about the Merrick Garland affair (for lack of a better word)? Does it go down as a blip on the radar, or is a fundamental destruction of how judges are traditionally appointed to the court?

J.G.: I think it crossed a red line that can’t easily be uncrossed. The second we see a Republican president with a Democratic majority in the Senate, we are likely to see retaliation. I think we need a dramatic reset of the judicial nomination process. If I had my druthers, I would take it out of presidential control entirely (which would require a constitutional amendment). Many countries have a commission with a balance of political types and judges. I’d favor that here. The idea that a president and a bare majority of the Senate can give a lifetime appointment to a Supreme Court Justice is disquieting in the polarized era we live in. When politics is broken like this, we should try to limit the damage.

J.P.: Another weird one—at this moment I’m reading Robert W. Creamer’s biography of Babe Ruth. It’s riveting, beautifully written, absorbing. You, on the other hand, must read a trillion legal papers, briefs, decisions every year. Do you enjoy the material? Do you view it as a dry-yet-necessary part of the profession? Because, Jesus, I couldn’t do it …

J.G.: I like reading good legal academic work, which is most of what I read. I think you’ll find the same is true among most law professors. Some of it can be very well written—Charles Black comes to mind, for example—but at bottom you read it for the quality of the ideas. I don’t read as many court opinions as you might think, and fewer legal briefs. Many of these are not exactly pleasure reading, but you’re reading them for information, and with practice it can be done quickly and relatively painlessly.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Jim Kiick, Mos Def, arugala, Steve Cannella, Mark Tushnet, Luis Sojo, William Cushing, iced cinnamon almond milk macchiato, Cornel West: Steve Cannella, Mos Def, Cornel West, Mark Tushnet, Luis Sojo, William Cushing, arugala, iced cinnamon almond milk macchiato. I don’t know who Jim Kiick is.

• Three strangest memories from your time at SI: 1) The magazine ran a photo of Darryl Strawberry, then retired, standing next to a woman in a swingers club. This photo had no news value. It was pure clickbait. But it ended up imperiling Strawberry’s return to baseball. A few days after the photo ran, he suffered a drug relapse and crashed his car. Has to be one of the low moments in the history of the magazine and I am ashamed that I had anything to do with it; 2) Enjoying taco night at the home of ex-Astros and Tigers catcher Mitch Meluskey (where he lived with his mom), in Yakima, Washington. I was doing a story on him. As I was leaving into the pitch blackness to find my car, he told me that his last dog “don got ate by the coyotes.” Right on cue, I hear howling coyotes outside; 3) You returning from your interview with John Rocker and telling me what he said.

• Would you rather sit in a room for 54-straight hours listening to the music of Bananarama or change your name to Daniel Habib Horseradish-Chairguy III?: Bananarama.

• One question you would ask Joe Klecko were he here right now?: Who are you?

• Does climate change ruin the earth and cause our great-great grandkids to die horribly?: Some of them.

• In exactly 22 words, make an argument for Melville FullerFuller presided over the Lochner Era, when the Court made lots of mistakes but, for the first time ever, took rights seriously.

• How did you propose to your wife?: I surprised her in her parents’ kitchen and proposed in front of them.

• Three memories from your first-ever date?: I don’t know what my first-ever date was. Seriously. As to my first date with my wife, I remember that (1) she emphatically did not consider it a date, (2) we had Ethiopian food, and (3) she wore blue, the Germans wore grey.

• If you had to take five justices for your all-time fantastic name justice list, you’d pick …: Rufus PeckhamBushrod Washington (nephew of George); Henry Billings Brown (author of Plessy v. Ferguson, which was later overruled by … the Brown case); Salmon ChaseLucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II.

• On a scale of 1 to 100, how much to you fear your own mortality (100 being you can’t stop thinking about it)?: 10