Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Peter Gleick

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Although I am 100-percent certain man-impacted climate change is one of the great threats facing humanity, I’m often ineloquent in its defense. That’s the problem with having no scientific background—you can digest what’s said, and form your own opinions. But when you’re asked to stand up and make your case, well … eh, it ain’t easy.

Enter: Peter Gleick.

The founder of the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank that provides science-based thought leadership with active outreach to influence efforts in developing sustainable water policies, Dr. Gleick is:

A. The smartest dude to do a Quaz.

B. The perfect person to go deep on the environment.

C. Cool as shit.

I’m particularly happy because Dr. Gleick took the time to answer three questions (all below) submitted by King Wenclas, a huge Donald Trump supporter who seems to believe much (if not all) of the climate talk is hooey (he won’t agree, because deniers rarely agree—but he was pretty much smacked around by ol’ Gleick).

Anyhow, here Peter explains in very detailed-yet-digestible why climate change is real, why listening to Donald Trump is wrong and why he prefers Todd Gurley to Marco Rubio. One can follow Dr. Gleick on Twitter here and read some of his work here and here. Oh, and check out his website here.

Dr. Peter Gleick, yes, the world is melting. But you’re Quaz No. 262!

JEFF PEARLMAN: Peter, I want to start with some seemingly basic, yet somehow not basic at all. Namely, I feel like—at some point in our modern history—it became OK for political leaders to reject science, and then followers would, well, follow. It’s certainly that way with the GOP and climate change. Why do you think this is? Or, put different, why are people so willing to ignore science?

PETER GLEICK: Gee, couldn’t we start with something easy? Like, what’s my favorite color? Wait, I don’t have an easy answer to that one either.

People reject science for different reasons. And while some high-profile scientific findings, like climate change science, are almost exclusively rejected by some Republican leaders and followers, I would note that science denial is not exclusively a problem with the GOP. There are examples where left-leaning politicians and individuals also reject well-understood science. Having said that, the worst science denial certainly has come from the right-wing in recent years. The reasons are varied:

• Sometimes a scientific finding conflicts with a deeply held religious belief. Evolution is an example of this.

• Sometimes it is based solely on ignorance about the extent of knowledge. Not everyone has scientific training, or learns how to evaluate scientific information.

• Sometimes it may conflict with another core belief (“I simply cannot believe that humans can affect something as big as the planet’s climate.”)

• Sometimes there are purely venal economic reasons for rejecting a scientific finding. There is a classic statement attributed to Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Given the massive economic interests that will be affected if we have to stop burning fossil fuels, this is a major driver of climate denial. A lot of money rides on what actions we take to tackle climate change. (Though I’d note that a lot more money rides on our failing to do so.)

• Finally, sometimes people reject science because they fear that if they accept a scientific finding, it will lead to something else they fear worse: stronger government action or higher taxes or a bad outcome over which they have no control.

The science of climate change is incredibly strong. Ninety-seven percent of scientists with any training in climate sciences support the conclusion that human-caused climate change is underway. Every single national academy of sciences on the planet, and every single professional scientific society in the geosciences supports this conclusion as well. The vocal climate denial we see today comes from a tiny number of very well supported and funded interests, and it comes from people who fall into all of the examples above.

J.P.: No one seems willing to flat-out say this, but are we fucked? In other words, is the world doomed to be uninhabitable sooner than later? Or can this possible work itself out?

P.G.: Well, sooner or (really, much later) the sun is going to explode, so, yes, eventually we’re fucked. But that’s not really what you’re asking, is it?  No, I don’t think there is any evidence that the world is doomed to be uninhabitable soon—i.e., for many, many centuries or far longer. It is true, however, that if no action is taken to slow the rate of climate change, things would go off the rails much sooner, for a larger and larger part of our population. The real issue is not the end of the human race; the real issue is misery and poverty for more and more people, dislocation of populations as seas and temperatures rise and force people to move, destruction of natural ecosystems … unfortunately, things can get pretty miserable and dystopian long before the earth is actually uninhabitable.

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J.P.: So there’s a guy on Twitter, his name is King Wenclas, and he’s the author of a pro-Trump book and a guy who insists man-induced climate change is nonsense. We were having some heated back and forths, and I finally said, “There are people who know much more than I do. I’m having an expert as a Quaz, what do you want me to ask him. So, here’s one: “With credible weather & CO2 records going back less than 200 years, an instant in geological time, isn’t it impossible to say recent warming is NOT natural or cyclical?”

P.G.: So, there’s an old joke: a guy walks into a bar and a bunch of old guys are sitting around drinking. Every now and then, one of them says a number and everyone laughs. Then someone else says a number, and everyone laughs. “What’s going on,” asks the newcomer. “Well, we’re old, long-time friends here and we’ve heard each other’s jokes for so long, we just gave them numbers to make it easier.” (There’s a second funny punchline too, but it’s not relevant to my answer.)

There are so many classic, uninformed, or misleading arguments against the science of climate change that have been repeated so often, that climate scientists have given them numbers. Check out this incredibly useful website, Skeptical Science, that has 193 of the common and esoteric climate misunderstandings and distortions, numbered and summarized, with short and long detailed reasons why they are wrong.

In this case, Wenclas’s argument is addressed by numbers 57 and 58.

There are three fundamental reasons his basic claim about weather and CO2 records is wrong and why the scientific community has clearly ruled out natural or cyclical climate changes:

First, there is an entire field of science called paleoclimatology—basically, the science of ancient climates. We have learning a fantastic amount about ancient climates and how and why they have varied, based on ice cores, fossil records, pollen layers in soils, tree rings, and much more. For example, there is an 800,000-year long highly accurate record of atmospheric temperature and CO2 concentrations taken from ancient ice cores from Antarctica (See the figure). A pretty remarkable thing: it shows the ups and downs from natural changes, but it also shows the explosion in CO2 in the atmosphere from human activities in the past century. And this evidence shows that the current changes are outside of natural variability.

Second, we understand the physics and the theory of how gases in the atmosphere behave, and we understand very well the factors that caused past, natural climate changes. That understanding lets us test what more CO2 and other gases will and are doing. And these past natural factors simply cannot explain current changes, while rising human-emitted gases DO explain them.

Finally, we have extensive observation that support the theory. It isn’t just rising temperatures, it’s everything else we see happening too: rising sea level, disappearing Arctic ice, changes in how birds migrate, moving plant populations, earlier springs, and on and on.

For fun, here is an incredibly cool graphic that shows the warming we’ve seen in the past century or so, and the influences of natural cycles, the sun, and other factors, compared to human influences. It shows beautifully that ONLY human factors fully explain what we see.

J.P.: And here’s another: “As life on earth is completely dependent on the sun, isn’t sun the most likely suspect in any global warming?”

P.G.: 2, 89, 111, 144, 182 (apropos my number joke above, here are the numbers assigned to this by Skeptical Science).

Sure, the sun is a very likely suspect; so likely that scientists have spent great effort looking into this question—and it has been debunked over, and over, and over again. Indeed, “Isn’t it the sun?” is such an old argument that it was given No. 2 on the Skeptical Science website, along with a few other related arguments (the numbers I list above). I won’t summarize them here, but seriously, do skeptics think that scientists haven’t thought of the sun and pretty much every single other possible factor, tested those ideas, and ruled them out? That’s what scientists do.

Look it would be great if humans weren’t responsible—we’d be off the hook and wouldn’t have to change what we’re doing. But once we learn something is bad and it’s our fault, we have an obligation not to bury our heads in the sand and ignore it.

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J.P.: And lastly, I’ll give him this one: “Computers can’t predict who’ll win the Super Bowl or a horse race or an MMA fight with a minimum of variables. How can they accurately predict climate, with a thousand times more variables?”

P.G.: This is another classic misunderstanding: the confusion between “climate” and “weather.”

It is absolutely true that no computer model can predict the precise weather more than a few days into the future. But “climate” is the long-term average of weather, and climate models can do an excellent job of forecasting future climatic conditions. This is the difference between saying, “There will be a high of 95 degrees and half an inch of rain on February 5, 2083”—which we cannot do, and never will be able to do, versus saying “In the 2080s, the average temperature is going to be around 5 degrees hotter than it is now, seas are going to be around a meter higher, and the Sierra Nevada mountains will have a lot less snow”—which we absolutely can do. And our climate models are getting better every day.

This is, however, a reasonable question in another way. There is a really important “human” component to climate modeling. Just as the “human factor” makes it impossible to accurately predict precise outcomes of sporting events, the human factor limits the ability of climate models. We are getting the physics and climate science down very well in these models (and better all the time), but what happens to future climate also depends on what humans chose to do about it: how much fossil fuel are we going to burn and how fast; how many greenhouse gases are we going to put into the atmosphere; will the countries of the world act to slow emissions, and how soon? These are human/economic/political factors we cannot predict and they will ultimately determine how fast climate changes and how severe the impacts will be.

J.P.: Peter, what’s your life path? I mean, I know you attended Yale to study engineering; know you went to Berkeley for master’s and doctorate; know you are the president and co-founder of Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security. But … when did you know this was what you wanted? How did you know? And when were you first aware of the true peril of climate change?

P.G.: Well, I guess I meander along life’s way, like most people, but I have a basic passion for the environment and science. I had an enlightening conversation with my father when I was young: one day I naively asked him if he could live his life over, what would he do differently, thinking the answer was that he’d not change a thing: he was a lawyer in New York, a good one, with a strong and comfortable family life. Without hesitating, he said he’d be a park ranger in the national parks in the west. This was a huge surprise to me, but what stuck with me was his unspoken message to do what excited me, rather than what anyone else might expect or want.

That has led me to work on climate and water issues from back when I was in graduate school. When I co-founded the Institute, which tackles these issues, I had no idea how long it would last, or whether others would find the idea of doing research and policy work on these difficult problems worthwhile. But here we are, 28 years later, and there is still plenty of interest and plenty to do. I’ve been aware of the threat of climate change since the early 1980s—even then the science was pretty strong and it’s only gotten stronger since then.

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J.P.: You’ve been pretty outspoken against Donald Trump as the potential president. Why?

P.G.: On a professional level, I judge his positions (to the extent one can even figure out what his positions are) to be completely antithetical to the realities of science, the threats to our environment and planet, and the best interests of the United States.

On a personal level, I find his positions (again, to the extent one can figure them out) on issues like women’s rights, ethnic diversity and immigration, racism, international security, basic economics and basic decency to be despicable.

In short, I find the risks of a Trump presidency to be so grave that I intend to keep speaking out against it.

J.P.: Recently coal has been a pretty hot topic, with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump seeming to pander to miners. But it strikes me that, in 2016, we just need coal to go away. My questions: A. How awful is coal for air quality? B. Do you feel like its eradication as an energy source is inevitable? C. What can we tell miners who are going to lose their jobs? Sources of income?

P.G.: Ha, ha, good pun (hot topic). Yes, coal is a really, really bad fuel—the dirtiest. It’s bad when we dig it out, it’s bad when we burn it, and it’s bad when we dispose of the ash and waste. I do think that the era of coal is ending. There are far better, cleaner, and safer alternatives. But we have a lot of existing coal plants, and many parts of the world depend on them. The challenge is to phase them out as fast as possible and to do so in a way that supports workers in the coal industry. That means retraining and redevelopment in coal mining regions.

It is true, and difficult, when an industry fails and the people who work in that industry lose jobs, but this is not sufficient reason to keep a failing industry going. What did we tell people who manufactured steam locomotives, or telegraphs, or VCRs, or tape decks, or any other industry that became obsolete? This is the free market at work, and if Donald Trump or the GOP truly believed in the free market, they would accept that markets and industries change. Oddly, it seems that Trump would have his government interfere with the market that tells us that coal is on its way out, but would refuse to have his government provide assistance to its workers.

But again, here is some good news: the incredibly rapid expansion of renewable energy: solar and wind in particular, has led to a massive number of new jobs. There are now more people in the United States working in the solar industry than in the coal industry, and this trend will continue.

J.P.: In 1999 you wrote a paper, “The Human Right to Water,” that argued all people deserve safe, clean drinking water. That was 17 years ago. How has the situation changed?

P.G.: This is another area where there is good news! First, though it took years, in 2010 the United Nations formally declared a legal human right to safe water and sanitation. This is a fantastic step forward. The other good news is that while far too many people worldwide still do not have access to safe water, we’re moving in the right direction and the UN has set a goal (one of the “Sustainable Development Goals”) of providing everyone with safe water by 2030.

J.P.: Being serious—how do you sleep? What I mean is, I look around the world and I see soooooo much awfulness and indifference. And I just don’t know what to do; how to enjoy a milkshake when Glacier National Park is disintegrating. Are you able to separate work harshness from personal satisfaction?

P.G.: There is plenty of awfulness and indifference. But there are also so many people committed to trying to do the right thing and make a difference, and I get work satisfaction from tackling difficult problems and seeing progress in the right direction. I’m actually an optimist in the sense that I think we’ll eventually solve these problems of climate change, water scarcity, and environmental injustice. We just have to work as hard as possible so these solutions come sooner rather than later. In the end, we do what we can and we make peace with ourselves. Enjoy your milkshake! (But you’d better go visit Glacier National Park while it still has glaciers.)

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• In exactly 23 words, make an argument for scented candles: Scented candles are an abomination, fouling air, assaulting the senses, and probably causing all sorts of horrid diseases. Oh, you meant “for” them?

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ronald McDonald, Rafael Nadal, Todd Gurley, Poland Springs, “The Breakfast Club,” Marco Rubio, Grateful Dead, corn on the cob, Costco: Grateful Dead, corn on the cob, Rafael Nadal, Todd Gurley, Costco, The Breakfast Club, Ronald McDonald, Poland Springs, Marco Rubio [Rubio might have been ranked higher, except for his endorsement of Donald Trump. I mean, has he no self-respect?]

Donald Trump says there is no drought in California. Why would he say such a thing?: Really, who knows why anything in particular comes out of Trump’s mouth? In this case, it appears he was pandering to some conservative farmers. Oh, and here is the official drought monitor map for California, from the University of Nebraska’s drought center, updated weekly. California’s drought is its worst in 1,200 years, and on top of it, we have nearly 40 million people dependent on the water we have.

• Five all-time favorite scientists?: 1. Eratosthenes (a mathematician, poet, musician and inventor of geography. Also, he was the first person to accurately measure the circumference of the round earth, and he basically did it with a stick.); 2 Albert Einstein (for, well, everything in modern physics. Also that hair.); 3. Charles Darwin (because, evolution.); 4. Galileo Galilei (for speaking scientific truth to religious dogmatism.); 5. Leonardo da Vinci (oh, come on. Have you seen everything he did? I figure he invented a time machine in the future, went back to the past, and got stuck.)

• The world needs to know: How crazy are those US National Academy of Science holiday parties?: The first rule of US National Academy of Science holiday parties is you do not talk about US National Academy of Science holiday parties. The second rule …

• One question you would ask 50 Cent were he here right now: This one stumps me. I met Jay-Z once at a UN event working to solve global water problems and I didn’t know what to ask him either.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, never.

• Three memories from your high school gym class: Watching Paul beat up Brendon, two years after Brendon picked on him, once Paul reached puberty and grew; watching the girl’s gymnastics team, because, well, girls and gymnastics; lettering in varsity soccer even though my greatest contribution was warming the bench.

• Would you rather permanently change your name to Celine Dion-Analcavity or spend a year listening to Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” seven hours every day on audio?: Can I gouge my eyes out with sharp sticks? Is that a third choice?

• Do you think the Padres made a mistake trading Ozzie Smith for Garry Templeton?: Channeling my late father, who was a die-hard Cardinal fans, the answer to that would have to be a yes, ha, ha, suck it up, Padres.

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Jeff Passan

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This is the 261st Quaz, and I’ve never had a harder time tracking down pictures of a subject.

I asked Jeff Passan. Asked twice. But in the age of look-at-me journalism, Passan is a strange bird. He doesn’t take selfies. His Twitter stream is loaded with images … of other things. He barely exists on Facebook, and isn’t itching to land his own ESPN show.

In short, the dude is a writer. Period.

Which, truly, is why he’s here. Yes, Jeff’s new book, “The Arm,” is earning rave reviews. And yes, he’s a guy who can speak on life at both a newspaper and a website; who can confidently stroll through Major League clubhouses with one of the medium’s best reputations. But the coolest thing (for my limited money) about Jeff Passan is he brings a high level of craftsmanship to profession that needs it. Words matter to the man. As do transitions, phrases, ledes. He’s a writer’s writer, which makes him my type of guy.

One can order “The Arm” on Amazon, and follow Jeff on Twitter here.

Jeff Passan, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Jeff, I’m gonna start with a weird one. I think I first became aware of your writing back in the early-to-mid 2000s, when you were covering baseball for the Kansas City Star. You were in your early 20s, had a rep as a writer to keep an eye on, etc. Then you were hired by Yahoo!—big move. So you had this moment where you were an up-and-coming star in the sportswriting world, and now you’re coming on 36, you’ve done this for a good spell. And I wonder, has the reality of the career matched the early hope and dreams and excitement you surely had? In other words, has it all lived up to what you wanted?

JEFF PASSAN: On the contrary, I’d say it has exceeded it. Not a day goes by that I don’t recognize how lucky I’ve been and am. It’s not just the classic I-get-to-write-about-sports-for-a-living answer. Nor simply surviving a business that can eat people up, as it has done to friends and, frankly, to my father toward the end of his 42 years with The Plain Dealer. When I got hired by Yahoo a decade ago, I was a few months from being engaged. Now I’ve got a wife and two kids, and though the job can be terribly demanding, I don’t feel like I miss a lot at home, mainly due to the evolution of the work allowing much of it over the phone. I was hired in 2006 to seek out stories; today I’m expected to break news and render cogent, insightful, informed opinion. At first, I hated it, mainly because I was no good at it, but then I recognized that fighting the business usually ends in unemployment, and this was an opportunity to challenge myself and grow. And I’m so very much better for it.

JEFF PEARLMAN.: Earlier this year you released a book, “The Arm,” that focuses on the mechanics, makeup and importance of a pitcher’s arm. And you clearly busted ass, and the reviews have been outstanding. But you also expressed to be some exasperation over sales; the very familiar, “What more can I do?” author exhale. So I’m curious what the promoting process has been like for you? Do you at all understand what moves books v. what doesn’t? Are you satisfied? Pissed? Grateful? Itchy?

JEFF PASSAN: Satisfied, definitely, because I feel like the content was good. My nonfiction narrative muscles had atrophied because of how the job changed, and I didn’t know whether I was capable of writing 120,000 good words. Once or twice a year I might drop a 5,000-word story, but this — immersing yourself in the lives of two people while drilling into this labyrinthine world around them — helped pull me out of the daily grind that occasionally runs the risk of growing myopic.

Confused, actually, is probably the best word to describe the business aspect. The empathy of those who’ve felt the same should help, but it really doesn’t, because you want yours to be different. You want to be the exception. And when you realize it’s not, it dawns on you: It’s probably because the work wasn’t good enough for it to be the outlier. And then I tell myself to stop being an egomaniacal asshole and understand that this book has a chance to be important to a lot of people, especially kids, and that if its impact extends beyond sales, it’s something worth being proud of.

Oh, and I have no idea what sells books and promotion is cool when you’re on Fresh Air and SportsCenter and madness when you’re talking with radio hosts who haven’t bothered to read even one page and are working off the publicist’s bullet points.

JEFF PEARLMAN: I love the idea behind “The Arm,” because it seems so tight and narrow. Yet it also seems like it could have been a tough sell, convincing publishers, “You know what I wanna write a book on—pitching arms.” So was it? How hard/easy was landing a deal? And how did you go about it?

JEFF PASSAN: I procrastinated my way into a deal. I started reporting the book in May 2012. I didn’t sell it until September 2014. I wanted two really good sample chapters and a super-thorough proposal since this was my first solo book. Todd Coffey surgery in July 2012, which I thought was going to be Chapter 3 but ended up being Chapter 1, was a gimme. I happened to be there when Daniel Hudson blew out his elbow for the second time in June 2013, and after that, I knew I had my second great chapter. Between my job at Yahoo and continuing to report the book, though, I didn’t feel all that compelled to sell the book. I ran the risk that someone tries to jump the market, but I’d been working on it long enough that I knew it wasn’t something you could crash. So I spent a good portion of the next year honing it, got always-sage advice from my agent, Jay Mandel, met with nine publishers in New York, received six offers and ended up, funny enough, at HarperCollins, with whom I hadn’t even met.

JEFF PEARLMAN: What’s your writing process? You’re working on a story, or a column, or some chapters. Where do you write? When? Music? Food? Details?

JEFF PASSAN: I like, to my editors’ chagrin, writing at night. Often late. As the timestamp on this email will affirm. I’m often on my couch. Sometimes at my kitchen table. My wife bought a beautiful mid-century desk, where I did a lot of The Arm, but I always tend to gravitate back toward the main hub of our house, much to her discontent. I almost always listen to music. I’ll play the same song on loop. It almost turns into white noise. Sometimes it’s whole albums, like Explosions in the Sky’s “The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place” or Alice in Chains’ “Jar of Flies” or Beck’s “Morning Phase.” I’ve listened to “Optimistic” by Radiohead for 44 hours, 51 minutes and “Everlong” by Foo Fighters for 38 hours, 49 minutes, according to iTunes. Apparently I’ve spent nearly a week of my life listening to the Explosions in the Sky record on this computer alone, which frightens me. I like eating high-protein snacks (beef jerky, spoonfuls of peanut butter). I drink too much Coke Zero. It’s my vice and salvation.

JEFF PEARLMAN: You attended Syracuse, I attended Delaware. I wanted to attend Syracuse for journalism, but didn’t get in the program. So I wound up a Blue Hen, and always considered it a blessing, because the journalism program was small and I was quickly covering DI basketball and a football program that produced a ton of NFL players. And there was little wait, little paying my dues. I didn’t have to beat out 100 other aspirants. But I’ve always also felt that, perhaps, I missed out. So what was the Syracuse experience for you? Is it what it’s hyped up to be?

JEFF PASSAN: The school itself? Nah. I mean, I was an idiot. George Saunders taught at Syracuse and I didn’t have any idea who he was. I scheduled my classes so a) I had Fridays off and b) I didn’t have to wake up before 10. The newspaper? Let’s put it this way: When I was sports editor in fall 2000, our staff included Greg Bishop, Eli Saslow, Chico Harlan, Darryl Slater, Mike Rothstein, Pete Iorizzo, Chris Carlson and two tremendous ex-sportswriters, Chris Snow and Dave Curtis. Pete Thamel was my first editor. Adam Kilgore arrived the year after I graduated. No greater education exists for a wannabe journalist than daily newspapering, and The Daily Orange taught me more than my father, my classes or anything since.

I don’t know that’s unique to Syracuse, though. Where we differed, I think, was that we rarely let our self-interest get in the way of our shared goals. I still consider everyone on that staff a friend and am so proud to see their successes.

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JEFF PEARLMAN: I’m working on a book about the USFL, and I keep asking players, “Did you know the league was dying?” You worked at a newspaper before Yahoo! So I ask, did you know newspapers were dying? And if so, how?

JEFF PASSAN: When I went to Yahoo, I fully expected to spend two years there and end up back at a newspaper as a columnist. Because, in my mid-20s, I was still an idiot. (Sense a theme here?) Know who saw the future? Dan Wetzel and Adrian Wojnarowski. Wetz is the smartest person in the business simply in terms of understanding readers and story. And Woj changed the business by legitimizing the insider role on the web and leveraging social media for its greatest use. I remain in awe of their work and their work ethic, and I curse them for setting the standard at Yahoo so high that the rest of us can be at our very best and still look mediocre by comparison.

JEFF PEARLMAN: This might sound weird, but we’re in the midst of a hellish presidential election. The climate is doing some crazy shit. Police hostilities are on the rise. We’re a violent people with guns and more guns. And yet, you and I write about sports. I’ve gone through many phases where I’ve thought, “Why am I doing something so … trivial and socially meaningless?” They don’t last, but the ponderings definitely come and go. How about you? Are you ever midway through, oh, Astros-Brewers thinking, “What the fuck am I doing here?”

JEFF PASSAN: Sports is going to be covered. I think I cover it well. People seem to derive satisfaction from my work. I’m ultimately a pragmatist, and the combination of the enjoyment I get from my job, the quality people with whom I work, the flexibility and the compensation make it best for me right now. I’d be lying, though, if I said I didn’t sometimes think about what’s going on in Kansas, where I live, and wonder why I don’t at very least lend my voice to oppose the clown show in Topeka. My kids might not have schools to go to in August, and it’s because Sam Brownback, the miserable excuse for a governor Kansans somehow elected twice, turned the state into the living embodiment of Republican policy run amok.

The truth is, I don’t know that I’m smart enough to wade in those waters, so I tend to avoid them even though the platform my job affords me would allow me to have a voice. I fear I’d be a zealot, and the last think politics needs is more zealotry.

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Do you ever feel guilty slamming or dogging people? And how much/how hard do you debate whether a tone is too harsh?

JEFF PASSAN: No, because I think I’ve found the right tenor for most subjects, and having written baseball for 13 years now, there’s almost a trust with readers where they understand if I’m going off on someone, it’s not half-cocked. For example, I’m reporting a column right now that is going to be pretty righteously indignant. I tend to save those only for the cases that warrant it, though, whereas when I was finding my voice early on at Yahoo, I might empty both barrels at a subject that probably deserved an Airsoft pellet.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

JEFF PASSAN: Like I said earlier, I’m really lucky. My lowest moment wasn’t even low. It happened when I was 21 and The Washington Post said it didn’t want to hire me after my internship there. I’ve worked at great papers in Fresno and Kansas City. I’ve been fortunate enough to be at Yahoo for coming up on 11 years. The greatest moment, I think, was when I typed the last words of “The Arm.” I did it. I actually did it. Holy shit. I did it.

JEFF PEARLMAN: I always find the book-writing process to be a weird merging of pleasure pain. Joy-frustration-joy-frustration. I scream, curse, cry, scream, eat. What was it like for you, soup to nuts?

JEFF PASSAN: I don’t do well with stress, and roller-coastering emotions stress me out, so I do everything I can to avoid it, and I usually succeed. I won’t write another book with a full-time job again. That was pretty stupid and unfair to my poor wife. The smartest thing I did was bring aboard two wonderful college kids, Blake Schuster and Mike Vernon, who transcribed every tape for me and saved me hundreds of hours I could devote to outlining and writing. (And watching YouTube videos of old wrestling matches and wasting time countless other ways. Sorry, guys.) I’d say about 65,000 words were finished two weeks before my deadline over a 10-day period in Phoenix, where I went to stay at my parents’ house when they were on vacation so I could get some peace and quiet away from the kids and spend 18 hours writing and six sleeping every day.

This is a disjointed mind dump, which I suppose is as good a metaphor for the first draft of a book as any.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 4.19.59 PMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH JEFF PASSAN:

• Five most talented athletes you’ve ever seen?: Bo Jackson, Usain Bolt, Brock Lesnar, LeBron James, Tiger Woods.

• How do you feel about your first name?: I’m glad it’s not Geoff.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ryan Howard, Olaf the Snowman, Orange County Register, fudge, AC/DC, Vince McMahon, lacrosse, Kenny Landreaux, Frank “Ponch” Poncherello, San Diego Zoo: Fudge, Vince McMahonAC/DClacrosse, San Diego Zoo, Ryan Howard, Orange County Register, Kenny Landreaux, Frank “Ponch” Poncherello, Olaf the Snowman.

• One question you would ask Michele Bachmann were she here right now?: What is wrong with you?

• We give you one series at quarterback, right now, with the San Diego Chargers. Can you complete a pass?: If I’m being honest with myself, probably not. I can throw a perfectly fine 15-yard out. I just have that much respect for the speed of the defensive linemen and the quality of cornerbacks. Plus I’m only 5-foot-9.

Bud Selig—great commissioner or awful commissioner?: Good commissioner.

• I’m freaking out about the drought? Tell me why I’m overreacting (or not): You’re not. The environment is our single greatest crisis, by far, and we’re willfully blind to it.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Nope.

• Three memories from your Bar Mitzvah: Crushing my torah and haftarah portions, dancing with Mary Lamancusa, buying my first computer with the money from presents.

• The next president of the United States will be?: Hillary Clinton. And not because I’m particularly enamored of her as a candidate or person. Just beats the alternative.

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Jerry Azar

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Back when I was a kid in the 1980s, every February my brother and I would fly to Ft. Lauderdale to spend a week with our grandparents, Nat and Mollie Pearlman.

Trips were always filled with fun and adventure: Lion Country Safari, Monkey Jungle, fishing, boat rides. But, for me, the gem of gems was the morning when Grandma and Grandpa would take us to watch New York Yankees spring training at the nearby stadium. Neither my grandparents nor my brother cared about sports—but I sure did. So I’d spend most of the time there leaning over the railing, begging for autographs. Through the years I snagged some dandies: Billy Martin, Ron Guidry, Graig Nettles. But, for some reason, the most memorable signature snag occurred when I spotted Jerry Azar—THE JERRY AZAR!— walking near the stands. He was, at the time, the most charismatic and influential sports anchor in New York, so I yelled at, “Mr Azar! Can you sign? Please, Mr. Azar!” Well, he walked over, mustache glistening in the sun, and I was giddy. Hell, 30-sometimes years later, I still have that scarp of paper.

Anyhow, consider this a full circle moment, because today’s 260th Quaz features THE JERRY AZAR!—one of my absolute media heroes and a man who has seen the highs and lows of a career in sports media. Jerry now lives in Indiana, but looks back fondly upon those days when TV sports anchors weren’t merely guys on the air, but kings of a city.

Jerry Azar, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Jerry, so back in the 1980s when I was a kid in Mahopac, N.Y., there were guys who I had to watch on TV. It was you, Sal Marchiano, Jerry Girard, Len Berman. My folks would yell, “Sports is on!” and I’d run in and watch—and that’s how I knew what was happening in this world I cared so much about. Nowadays it’s so different—sports 24/7, sports here, sports there, sports everywhere. And it sorta feels less … special to me. Do you know what I mean? And do you share those feelings in any way?

JERRY AZAR: I know exactly what you mean. We have an endless variety of sameness, and while I am not jealous, I am—as someone currently on the sidelines—jaded and bitter. Remember when NBC had “Must See TV” on Thursday nights with Seinfeld, etc? It used to be that way in local sports before cable—ESPN first, and then others conquered. There were distinct personalities on all the stations. Yes, we all had the same teams to cover, but it was a certain cook with a certain flavor. Now, it is formulaic with the same formula.

Another factor is the new audience of Millennials. Their appointment TV is when they set the appointment, not the network, not the station. Studies point out that they don’t trust marriage, employment, politics, Wall Street. You have a better chance in a casino then with their attention span. Sit through 22 minutes of a newscast to see a sportscaster? Sit through an hour of SportsCenter? No way. They get what they want, when they want or they don’t watch at all and find it on YouTube, or their phone. Perhaps if we were more compelling and original we could command more of their attention. Originality is not very original anymore. Not many have it, because no one really seeks it. That is why all the highlight shows look alike. I always felt personality was great, but you had to have the writing for that personality. That game plan took me twice from Terre Haute, Indiana to New York. I also had it, which can’t be defined, but cuts both ways. Throughout my career, I would be hired for that personality, that memorable TV/radio quality. Then the people that hired me would be fired and the next management—instead of liking it or at least being ambivalent—went totally against my game and soon it was “Bye-bye, get you audition tape ready.”

With Walter Cronkite

With Walter Cronkite

J.P.: You were a sports anchor in New York City during both the (bad) craziness of George Steinbrenner and the (successful) craziness of the Davey Johnson Mets. What was it like dealing with those two teams? Did you prefer one clubhouse over the other? One way of operating after the other?

J.A.: First, I don’t consider the George Steinbrenner years bad or crazy. I dealt with George before I came to WABC Channel 7 New York. I was working in Nashville from 1979-to-1981, and the Nashville Sounds were the Yankees Double A affiliate. They had some pretty good players on that team—Don Mattingly, Willie McGee, Steve (Bye Bye) Balboni, and a player who didn’t have the ability of the others but gave all he had and took the strikeouts very hard (he turned out to be a pretty good manager named Buck Showalter).

So George was going to help the Sounds out with an exhibition game in Nashville and I was assigned to get interviews and features for the game at spring training. The day we were there the Yankees didn’t feel like talking. I then went to George and told him we were having problems with his children (players). He blew up at me, told me to get my ass out of Ft Lauderdale and said that he was canceling the game in Nashville.

When the papers interviewed me I told them other forces were at work to make George hot. President Reagan had been shot that day, and Reggie Jackson had suffered a minor leg injury. This was a big story in Nashville, and from a hotel room I orchestrated that The (Nashville) Tennessean got access to my apartment for a picture of me that shared the headline with a picture of the Boss. The headline: STEINBRENNER AT ODDS WITH AZAR. Well, that headline and my audition reel helped me land the New York job.

Anyway, things were smoothed over, the game was held and George and I shook hands at the field. He later he presented me the award for the Southern League Sportscaster of the Year. Even without all that, Baseball isn’t as much fun, the Yankees aren’t as much fun and sports is not as much fun without the Boss and George M. Steinbrenner belongs in the Hall of Fame.

As for the Davey Johnson Mets, they were starting to set the table for their glory run of the 1980s. I interviewed Darryl Strawberry the day he was called up. Ron Darling was there, Keith Hernandez came and then Gary Carter. The Mets were more fun to cover because there was less tension. Dwight Gooden then came up and the Mets were being overly protective. They allowed no one-on-one interviews with Gooden. So, hey, you gotta do what ya gotta do. I gave my microphone to Strawberry, and somewhere there is archive footage of Darryl with the Eyewitness News mic interviewing Gooden, who had hit a home run that day. Doc’s line was terrific: “If they hang it I’ll bang it.” I have that interview on VHS and will post it once I get it converted to DVD. The Mets were loose and easy to cover, The Yankees a challenge because there was a Cold War atmosphere always ready to erupt.

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J.P.: Billy Martin—what was he like to deal with? What’s your best story?

J.A.: Why were the Yankees ready to erupt? Billy the Kid. Under Billy the Yankees instituted a policy—no cameras in the clubhouse. You would ask the players to come outside for interviews, and do Billy in the manager’s office. Why? It was always something—he said this, no, he said this, I was misquoted, Billy did this. The camera could set the story straight on many of these controversies.

I can remember once when Billy had been fired, then brought back, we were sent to Texas. The Yankee players didn’t want Billy back, there was a story of Don Baylor throwing a trash can against the wall. Well, when the announcement came there was going to be trouble. But, Billy, being Billy, hires Willie Horton as “tranquility coach.” There was also Billy’s fight with Ed Whitson, and Billy suffered a broken arm. I remember that when I interviewed him, Whitson was amazed that people thought there were two sides of the story. Hey it’s Billy Martin.

J.P.: In 1989 you were hired as the sports director at WKBW, the ABC affiliate in Buffalo, after being let go by WPLG. A story about the move included this: “Azar also had problems getting along with anchorwoman Ann Bishop, WPLG`s most valued talent. He said it was a personality clash. She countered that he wasn`t thoroughly prepared for his sportscasts.” A. What happened? B. Looking back, did she have a point? C. How often do personality clashes happen among news teams?

J.A.: After leaving WABC New York, my next stop was WPLG Miami. At that time I was not a good situation player, and I was in a situation. When I went there, Miami had just the Dolphins and U-M, the Heat had just won the right to exist as an expansion franchise, the Marlins and Panthers soon followed. You asked about Ann Bishop’s comment that I was not prepared for my sportscasts. Well, what I was not prepared for was the New York bias. Here was Mr. ABC, Mr. New York, coming to Florida to show us how it’s done. Instead of letting that slip by, I would fire off some smart-ass answer to give it back. Maturity and experience have taught me that just because you’re a quick gun doesn’t mean you have to go out in the street to prove it every time.

Ann Bishop was a great talent and anchor, but she was at war with the news director who hired me. You were either with Ann or not. I could not side against the guy who hired me. Also, while she was the top star in South Florida, I also had an audience from all of the snow birds who remembered me from the Tri-State area. In the end, Ann got the news director and me, and her critique that I wasn’t prepared was the first and only time that has been thrown against me. I loved living in Miami Beach, but the time there was too short. The lessons, though, were valuable.

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J.P.: As you know, ESPN’s Stuart Scott died in 2015. He, like many of the SportsCenter anchors through the years, had lots of fans and lots of detractors. People argue with Scott, Chris Berman, Dan Patrick, etc that they make it too much about them, too little about the actual sports. What do you think? Is there a boundary? And how does one know what/where it is?

J.A.: Their success speaks for itself. This goes back to your first question: If everyone is wearing a navy sports jacket, maybe your tie can make you stand out. The Broadway show and movie, “Gypsy,” had a number called, “You gotta have a gimmick.” If you find something that works for you and the audience likes it, run with it. Reaching an audience is one thing, connecting with them is a different animal. But when you do and it works, its magic. When a performer, anchor, actor has something that separates him from the pack, it separates them financially, more publicity, more opportunities. I am all for the standout, stand alone sportscaster who can pull this off. However, there is a danger. Topping yourself, going too far, well, the risk is that instead of being colorful, you cross over to zany. In preaching from the pulpit, you give a sermon every day, not just on Sunday and the novelty is gone. Trying to be funny every story, every highlight. If you can get off one or two good lines in a sportscast, it’s a big win. If, some nights, the material isn’t there, don’t force it.

J.P.: I know you’re an Indiana kid, know your first job, as a switchboard operator at WTHI, paid $1.60 an hour—but how did this happen to you? Like, why sports television? When did you first get an inkling? What was your first job? When did you realize you could be better than just good?

J.A.: It’s true—I got started as a switchboard operator in Terre Haute, which at that time was the country’s No. 140 market. What happened was, I injured my back out of high school … it was a ruptured disc that pinched a nerve, and my leg was dragging. I wore I brace but found it hard to sit in class in college, so I dropped out to have surgery, went back and never finished. To be honest, I hated school from time I was at St. Margaret Mary’s and the nuns did a number on me that still affects me to this day. You had to go to a Catholic school in the 1950s and 60s to appreciate what they did to many children who, like me, bear the emotional scars. But that’s a story for another day.

So injured back and all, I heard about a switchboard job opening at the TV station, and that eventually led to doing interviews and then anchoring. This brought about a change of climate regarding Jerry Azar. I was getting complements. We had a charity basketball team, and having played and being a dead-on pure shooter, well, I couldn’t do much, but I could shoot. That ability and showmanship led to people writing and calling the station—“Who is the guy with the big nose and mustache? He put on a good show!” That also helped to get me started. I felt I was good and getting acclaim was a high.

Remember, this was  during the drug revolution, and while I have never done anything related to drugs (which no one believes) I had found my high, the most intoxicating, addicting drug—TV. It gave self esteem, a sense of purpose, helped with women and it was legal. I went all in, all the chips in the middle, no plan B necessary, I was home. But, I gave all of myself, body and sou,l to a volatile, irrational, subjective force, that with all the glory would also bring bouts of unemployment, humiliation and allow this career to do things that no human—man or woman—could ever get away with. I knew I was good and I knew that I had it. Even when I was making just $5 a show as an anchor, the wolves were circling. It came easy to me, I didn’t need a  teleprompter when there wasn’t one. This was the mId-1970s, when the fun sportscaster was becoming the rage. Warner Wolf, Jerry Girard, other man like that.

When Muhammad Ali fought Ernie Shavers, I tracked Ali down in hotel room, spoke to members of his team about the fight. That brought about a meeting where I was was told, “If you want to be Howard Cosell go to New York.” Remember, I am only there on weekends, making $5 a show and were having meetings. I quit after that meeting, got another job at a TV station in Terre Haute, and eventually made it to New York … and interviewed Cosell.

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J.P.: You spent a good amount of the late 1990s and early 2000s at Michael Bloomberg’s WBBR in New York, serving as the morning sports anchor, getting up at 1 am to start preparing. It kinda sounds, well, awful. Was it? And is there something addictive about being on air/on screen that keeps people in the profession?

J.A.: I will always be indebted to Mike Bloomberg for bringing me back to New York in 1994. He also gave me the opportunity to do what I always wanted to do—celebrity interviews. Not just sports stars, either, but film greats and some from the political arena. Getting up early, hey, they don’t call it the graveyard shift for nothing. It was tough. At the beginning I tried to watch my lead story, Baseball was the toughest as those games could run past midnight, etc. You can’t do that and get up at 3 or 4 am and be sharp. I don’t like to go to work and start work, I like to have most of work done when I get there, and start cranking it out. After nine years it took its toll. I spent 16 years at Bloomberg L.P.

A quick Mike Bloomberg story: Mike says to me, “Azar, get over here! There was movie where a guy gets killed, but it wasn’t  his time and they have to find—” I cut him off, “Heaven Can Wait” with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie.” Bloomberg says, “How do you know stuff just like that?” My answer, “Mike, that’s why your sitting there and I’m sitting here.”

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

J.A.: The greatest moment of my career came when I was working at WABC. I was sent out to cover a story on Visa and their new spokesperson, circa 1983. It was Mickey Mantle. Like so many from the 1950s and 60s, we loved the Mick. How many times would you be in your backyard, fantasy baseball, Wiffle ball, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, Game 7 of the World Series, and you would be No. 7. The pitch, as Mel Allen used to call it it,”is going, going—gone!” Anyway, I was there wearing my circle 7 lapel button. Back then, there were a badge of honor as the number 7 had an O around it, meaning you were working for an owned-and-operated station by the ABC Television Network. So I interview Mantle, he sees the 7 and says, “That used to be my number” I said,”You can have it” and I pinned  the 7 on number 7.

Tying that thrill was interviewing Charlton Heston. We hit off from go, and this is the only time this happened to me in my career … for about 20 seconds I felt “I’ve made it here!” Here I am, Jerry Azar from Terre Haute, sitting across from Moses, Judah Ben Hur, Michelangelo, Andrew Jackson, and he’s laughing and having a great time. On camera I asked him to give the famous quote from “Planet of the Apes” and he said, “Get you stinkin’ paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” I played that quote over and over in the newsroom … it was always requested by the co-workers. I still play it.

Lowest part of my career is also a tie. First, when Mike Bloomberg left the company to run for mayor, and my old curse turned up again. While he and managers had asked me to be the personality of Bloomberg and be the Zar, the person he left in charge was a non-broadcaster who hated personality, humor, opinion, color. I was a marked man. I probably am the only person who was sent to human resources  for having personality on the air, and then when some personality was asked for I would not do it because that gray area left me vulnerable. I was then sent to HR for not delivering personality on the air. This pressure, plus family health care issues back in Indiana with my mom (I was an only child), led to health issues and missing work and leaving Bloomberg. Had Mike never left, I would still be there or in another job. I had hit my stride, I could smell the gold—and then it was snatched away, leading to  a fall out of the game at a late age and my current position.

I have been on the sidelines for five years. OK, a couple commercials  some voice-over work, but no steady, daily work. A salesman has to sell, and a performer has to be perform, and when you leave New York, It’s like the Gordon Gekko line to Bud Fox in Wall Street, “You’re either inside, or you’re outside”. It’s hard to imagine being more outside than Terre Haute, Indiana at this point of my life and career.

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J.P.: “Hot Dates with Jerry Azar”—um, explain.

J.A.: One of my ideas for my morning sportscast at Bloomberg was “This Date in History”—celebrity birthdays and songs that topped the countdown. Things like that. You would be surprised what you can make with this stuff. A manager said once in a meeting, “We give them business news, Wall Street and headlines … and sometimes all they remember from the newscast is Azar’s birthdays or song.”

Out of this I pitched a pilot using movies, and all this stuff. We made the pilot, it was primitive but fun, but I was poison, and I was told they could not sell it. This was in my final year at Bloomberg and I was stupid enough to think I could save myself. In the Clint Eastwood film The Gauntlet he is chosen for a job that is basically a suicide mission (he doesn’t know it). When Sondra Locke asks him why he thinks he was picked for this mission, Eastwood says, “I get the job done.” Her reply: “They don’t want the job done.” This applied to me. No matter what I did I wasn’t going to change my status.

J.P.: What does it take to be a great broadcaster? Seriously, all jokes aside. Let’s say you’re advising a bunch of college kids on excelling in the business. What divides the bad from the average from the standouts?

J.A.: What does it take to be a great broadcaster? I’ve spoken to college students at places like NYU, and I tell them if you can’t take rejection, if you don’t want to be criticized, if you don’t want to have strangers come up and tell you they can’t stand you, don’t get into TV/radio. You can’t criticize people in the business for their massive egos, because they need that to survive and take it. I also repeat something I heard Bob Costas say about 10-to-15 years ago. In short: If you go to law school, complete your studies, pass the bar—you will be a  lawyer. If you go to medical school—same drill, you will be a doctor or nurse. Yet, you can go to Northwestern or Syracuse, study broadcasting, speech, communications and graduate with honors and there is no guarantee you will ever work in a television or radio station, be on the air as an anchor or writer. That said, broadcasting will open the doors for you if you are in the game. It can make you a celebrity, fill the voids and give you a career.

There is also a variable that can separate the great from the average—LUCK. Being in the right place at the right time, having a general manager like you or dislike you. And, of course, there is what i talked about earlier, having it.  Some are happy just to be in the game as a soldier.

Others go for the gold and the glory.

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• Rank in order (favorite to lest): Tony George, country potato bread, Chrysler Building, Sen. Dan Coats, Pantera, Steve Kemp, Keith Olbermann, Ronnie Wood, Fox Sports 1, Geri Halliwell, Niagara Falls, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”: 1. Tony George (I told him I owed him, as his grandfather, Tony “Gentlemen start your engines” Hulman gave me my first job at WTHI); 2. Fox Sports 1 (Would love to work there); 3. Keith Olbermann (Switch hitter can do sports/politics. Has taken on management and lived to tell of it, has burned ever bridge except the one at the River Kwai); 4. Niagara Falls (Check out the Abbot and Costello classic comedy bit); 5. Country Potato bread; 6 Senator Dan Coats (beats a possible President Pants Suit); 7. Ronnie Wood (Never that big of a Stones fan); 8. Pantera (Wasn’t he that weightlifter who turned wrestler?) 9. Steve Kemp (Shame on him for having all those kids with unwed mothers. Uh, sorry, that was Shawn Kemp); 10. Chrysler Building; 11. Geri Halliwell (Please); 12 It’s a Wonderful Life (If it is, it bypassed me).

• One question you would ask Wyclef Jean were he here right now?: Wyclef Jean, what the f— are you doing here right now?

• Five greatest sportscasters of your lifetime?: 1. Bob Costas; 2. Howard Cosell/Jim McKay; 3. Pat Summerall; 4. Keith Jackson; 5. Al Michaels

• What was your biggest on-air screwup?: My biggest screw-up on the air happened in Nashville. I was out on a live shot and had finished when the dean of anchors in Nashville and former announcer for the Grand Ole Opry asked a question for my sports director, throwing him a curve ball. Forgetting the first rule of broadcasting (Always assume your mic is live) while I wasn’t on camera I called the anchor an old fart twice, before my mic was killed. I wan in big trouble, but when I got back to the station, there had been no calls. Either no one was watching or they thought the guy was an old fart.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Am I the biggest name on the plane and do I get top billing?

• Would you rather glue slices of ham to your face and keep them there for a week or eat a bowl of John Tudor’s bloody snot?: Done both, next question.

• Ten nicest athletes you ever dealt with: I’ve never worried about about or cared about how nice an athlete was. I had a job to do, I wasn’t looking to be anyone’s friend. If the guy was difficult or nice, just handle it and move on.

• In exactly 17 words, your thoughts on Reggie Jackson: A true superstar, money player, a winner, ain’t braggin’ if you can do it, never any scandal.

• Two things we should know about your dad: 1. My dad croaked out when I was 21 and he never made an effort to have a relationship with me; 2. I’m thinking about possibly forgiving him now, before I croak out.


Johnny Premier


This is the 259th Quaz Q&A and, I must admit, the most difficult I’ve had to endure.

First, to make something clear: My friend Johnny Premier deserves great credit for being here. Roughly nine or 10 days ago I put out a Twitter APB, requesting a Donald Trump supporter who would consider being Quazed. I was greeted by the unmistakable sound of crickets—until Johnny stepped forward and said he would voraciously defend the man he wants to be our nation’s 45th president.

Now, anyone who reads this site, or follows me on Twitter, knows I would prefer an Oval Office starring Emmanuel Lewis, Dennis Rodman Bob Tewksbury, Lady Gaga or Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini to an occupancy of Trump. I don’t like him, I don’t trust him and I believe (deep in my heart) he’s a genuine say-whatever-it-takes-to-become-president fraud. But—and this is an important but—millions of Americans think otherwise. And if we only speak with folks who parrot our views, well, what’s the point? We learn nothing, we gain nothing, we understand little. So, again, I want to commend today’s guest. Because while I don’t share his beliefs, I do share his interest in grasping the philosophies of others.

Johnny is a huge supporter of Donald Trump. He lives in Las Vegas, where he works for StubHub as a ticket return center coordinator. He has spent a good chunk of time announcing pro wrestling and MMA events, and can be contacted (and booked for gigs) on Twitter. Although we disagree on presidential politics, I have nothing but respect for the man.

Johnny Premier, I hope you’re wrong about our next president. But I’m thrilled you’re here to make his case …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Johnny, I’m gonna kick off with something that’s been itching at me from the start of Donald Trump’s recent political rise. OK, so on March 20, 2003, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks ripped into George W. Bush during a London show, saying she was “ashamed” of the president. And this was a HUGE thing for the right. The Dixie Chicks were berated, shamed, damned. There were CD smashings, death threats, etc. And the general take from the right was an unambiguous, “This crossed a line.” OK, so now Barack Obama is president, and it’s 2011. And Donald Trump is a leader in the birther movement. He is, literally, saying the sitting president of the United States is not an American. Over and over and over again. I found this disturbing then, and even more disturbing now. I mean, this is YOUR candidate for the presidency. Why do you guys not find this disturbing?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I remember that Dixie Chicks controversy well. You’re totally leaving out the context of when the comments were made. We were nine days from invading Iraq, and a declaration of war. To me, that’s a time when, after the debates are done, you as an American should support the troops wholeheartedly. And it’s kinda rich how these liberal ladies who made so much money from our free-market economy were “ashamed” of President Bush.

I supported the Chicks’ right to speak their mind, but their timing was poor. I also supported their sponsors’ decision to disavow that relationship. Here’s the deal, though, with supporting Donald Trump—every once in a while, he says or does something where you say to yourself, “Aw, c’mon, man, let’s not go there.” And for me, the “birther movement” is one of those times. There’s so much about the Obama administration and his specific policies worth criticizing.

But that’s what’s so refreshing about Trump—he doesn’t test out his opinions in front of focus groups or pollsters before rolling them out. There’s an authenticity there!

JEFF PEARLMAN.: You find it refreshing that your preferred presidential candidate repeatedly accused the sitting president of the United States of lying about his place of birth? You’re telling me if Obama or Hillary did something similar you would just chalk it up to, “Hey ho, no biggie”? Really?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Well, there’s never been a Republican president with a Muslim name, so I don’t see how that question is relevant.

Also, whether they agree with him or not politically, I think the American people find Trump refreshing. It’s amazing to think about, but Jeb Bush was at one point the favorite to be the GOP nominee. I don’t think enough is made of that fact. The guy who finished fifth or sixth in the early primaries was once the favorite. Talk about your establishment candidate, with the family name, the big money donors, and the support of the party.

It made no difference. His campaign stalled because there was no refreshing honesty or transparency there. And that is a critical reason why Trump is the nominee, and “low energy” Jeb has no career, no future.

JEFF PEARLMAN: What’s your political background? First presidential election where you voted? Favorite politicians? Etc?

JOHNNY PREMIER: My parents are independent, and raised me to think that way. In doing so, I’ve found that I have always had a deep mistrust of big government. Part of that has been growing up in Connecticut, and our history of crooks (Weicker, Rowland, Dodd—I could go on). The other part is just seeing how ineffective the government is at solving most problems, compounded by how much politicians— mostly Democrats—love spending taxpayer money. The money gives them the power, and the ability to brag at cocktail parties about how they solved problems. It’s all a farce.

The first election I voted was in 1992, for the first President Bush. Ross Perot’s impact siphoned votes from the Republicans and handed that election to the Clintons. It was hard to take, because I knew how dangerous a Clinton presidency would be.

JEFF PEARLMAN.: You mentioned on Twitter that I don’t get Trump’s appeal. And, in a way, you’re right. So explain it …

JOHNNY PREMIER: Look, man, the last two Republican nominees were John McCain and Mitt Romney. Career politicians, mediocre public speakers, establishment guys. Trump has branded himself to be an absolute rock star, through the power of television. You see it at a Trump rally, the excitement that they’re seeing a celebrity. People respond to him because they know he’s going to tell you exactly what he thinks. How many Republicans through the years elicited this response?

That’s why the news channels, and the public, can’t stop talking about Donald Trump. I like him because he happens to be right on a number of issues that are important to me.

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump seems to enjoy calling everyone who disagrees with him a liar, or a crook, or whatever insult pops into his head. Yet in 1986, while testifying in a trial about the NFL-USFL, he lied under oath about Pete Rozelle offering him an NFL franchise. In Scotland, as was reported repeatedly on HBO Real Sports, he is loathed for a crooked golf course transaction. Recently there was a tape of him pretending to be his own PR guy back in the day—he lied and said it wasn’t him, after admitting it was him. He also said, on 9.11, he saw Muslims celebrating the World Trade Center attack—an observational that proved to be 100-percent fictional. One. Hundred. Percent. Fuck, the list of total bullshit is v-e-r-y long, v-e-r-y detailed. But I know many folks who simply feel like his supporters don’t give a shit. They always blame the media, or the haters. And, to me, it feels like a cult-like response. What am I missing?

JOHNNY PREMIER: OK, Jeff, so I see what’s going on here. You’re writing a book on the USFL—I’m guessing you were a fan of the league, and in doing that research you’re finding out things about Trump that bother you. Here’s the thing—revisionist history says that the quality of play was good. I remember it to be a poor, second-rate league whose only hope was to merge with the NFL. Trump knew that, and it’s why he tried to merge the Generals. Easy to play armchair quarterback with the benefit of hindsight.

I understand if you’re not going to put this quote on your book jacket, but look, Trump moved on. So should you.

I saw the Scotland golf course hit-piece by noted liberal Bryant Gumbel [JEFF’S NOTE: The reporter was actually Bernard Golberg, who is arch-conservative. Just saying]. It is a beautiful piece of land. They tried to make the old guy who didn’t want to sell into this martyr. I mean, come on.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump recently announced his tax plan, which—according to the Tax Policy Center (a nonpartisan outfit)—gives the wealthiest .1% of Americans an average tax cut of $1.3 million and raises the national debt by $34.1 trillion by 2036. Have you looked into Trump’s fiscal policies, besides, “I’m gonna make this country great!”? And what do you think of them?

JOHNNY PREMIER: This question is just loaded with sarcasm. You, clearly, think Trump’s supporters are just these silly people who can’t think for themselves. Of course I’ve looked into it. I love the fact that Americans who are single and make under $25,000 or married and combine to make less than $50,000, will not pay federal taxes. They shouldn’t. I love the simplification of the tax code with four brackets—0 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent. I love the reduction in taxes for business—small and large—which I believe will incentivize companies that have moved overseas to come back. And the elimination of the “death tax” is huge as well.

The beauty is, we’re going to pay for this with a specific plan that will reduce the size and scope of government.

JEFF PEARLMAN: How do you explain the super strong dislike for Hillary Clinton from the right? For the record, I’m not a big fan. But the apparent hate perplexes me a bit.

JOHNNY PREMIER: She’s just a dangerous person, Jeff. When she was secretary of state, four Americans died as a result of the Benghazi, Libya attacks—including the US ambassador. There were real security breaches that leaked from her office. She conducted State Department business from her personal email account in direct violation of State Department protocols and procedures, and federal law. Do we really want someone so irresponsible with classified information to be our next president?

There’s a history here that shows she is a long-time advocate for big government. Based on Hillary’s stated positions from the 1990s to today, and incorporating her senate voting record, the non-partisan Political Compass has her on a scale from -10 Libertarian to +10 Authoritarian as a +7 liberal. The Americans for Democratic Action love her. What else do you need to know?

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JEFF PEARLMAN: People like myself hear the Obama bashing from the right and we scratch our heads. I mean, if you look at the economic figures, the auto industry, the job numbers, Osama’s death, etc—were these the results of a Republican presidency, the right would be crowing … and I’m guessing you know it. So why so much hatred for a guy who, by most measures, has been transcendent?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I take issue with the entire premise of this question. Transcendent?!? There’s not enough time to focus on each issue, but with increasing boldness, Obama has argued for more government action and spending, and unilateral actions on his part to circumvent the GOP majority in congress.

I noticed you left out Obamacare, which has been an unmitigated disaster. Millions of Americans who were promised they could keep their existing insurance plans found their insurance canceled, and millions more who managed to enroll learned they couldn’t keep their doctor, as Obama had promised. Obamacare was a huge grab of government power, and a dismal failure.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Non-partisan estimates place the number of once-uninsured Americans who are now insured between 14 million and 16.5 million. Clearly Obamacare has had its flaws—no doubt. But I don’t see how it’s a disaster.

JOHNNY PREMIER: The Obamacare website cost $2.1 billion to build, and was supposed to encourage competition. It has not. Of the 11 million who signed up you reference, more than 3 million have dropped out by the end of the year.

Obama promised that it would not disrupt existing doctor-patient and health-care insurance arrangements. Completely false. The American medical scene is extremely complex, admittedly, but to resolve them in once comprehensive government program is the wrong solution. And the prohibition against crossing state lines to buy insurance was wrongheaded and must be repealed.

The congressional budget office estimates it will add $1.7 trillion to our nation’s debt over the next decade [JEFF’S NOTE: With all due respect to our guest, this is a very misleading figure]. And for what? Hillary has proposed new, sweeping additions to Obamacare that would paid for by … you guessed it, a new tax! This is part of what makes her and the tax-and-spend liberals so scary. Once a federal program gets started, the size and scope will expand as far as you let them.

JEFF PEARLMAN: There’s no way Donald Trump builds the wall, and has Mexico pay for it. There’s also no way Donald Trump rounds up 11 million illegals. So, if those two things—both lead elements of his campaign—don’t happen, does that mar his presidency? Do you think the right will hold him to it?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Really, there’s “no way” the wall gets built, and there’s “no way” Mexico pays for it? Again, your question is based on a fallacy!

Estimates I’ve seen are that the wall would cost $5-10 billion. The Mexican economy is so dependent on the United States, specifically here the $24 billion annually it receives in remittance from Mexican nationals working in the U.S. We can prevent those wire transfers to poor families in Mexico. Patriot Act Section 326 is a great “stick” to make this wall happen.

The important point here is that immigration to the U.S. is a privilege, not a right. Having a free flow of undocumented people is not in America’s best interest. And I applaud Trump for taking on a politically tricky issue!

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump suggested Megyn Kelly was bleeding from her vagina. He insulted Carly Fiorina by saying, “Look at her face! Look at her face!” He said John McCain—a POW in Vietnam for four years—is not a hero because he was captured. He said Ted Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s assassination. He mocked a handicapped reporter, Serge Kovaleski, by mimicking his disability. He has called Mexican immigrants rapists. He said Seventh Day Adventists were weird. Back in the 1980s in New York he said a bunch of African-American kids deserved the death penalty for raping a woman—and then it turned out they were innocent. It’s a nonstop insult cycle, and, again, I don’t understand why anyone would support a guy like this. Hate Hillary? Fine? Third candidate? OK. But this is REALLY the man you want representing America?

JOHNNY PREMIER: It’s interesting—you started this list with Megyn Kelly. Fox News wanted to be relevant for the 2016 election, so of course they extended an olive branch to Trump for the Kelly interview that was so promoted so hard by the network.

The one soundbite that the liberal media harped on was Kelly pointing out that Trump called her a “bimbo”—OK, fine—but the balance of the interview was great and I believe strengthened Trump in the minds of “establishment” Republican viewers.

As for the rest … eh. It doesn’t bother me, on balance, when you consider the great things a Trump presidency can do for our nation.

JEFF PEARLMAN: One of the HUGE criticisms from the right (HUGE) is Obama negotiating with Iran. I mean, it’s a Top 5 slam. Recently Donald Trump said he’d negotiate with Kim Jong Un. Again, had Obama or Hillary said this—the right would be SLAUGHTERING them. Are you OK with it? And why is this any different than talking with Iran?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Again Jeff, love ya but jeez, you love asking me questions out of context! I saw this interview—his main point here was that we should pressure China (who we have plenty of economic leverage on, but are not using thanks to Obama) into making North Korea change his ways. And that is a main difference between Trump and Hillary.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Trump has said—then said he didn’t say, even though it was on tape—that he would “take out” the families of suspected terrorists and that the military would follow his orders even if they are illegal. This probably doesn’t trouble you. Why?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I know the comments you were referring to, in December on Fox News. I do not support the killing of innocent women and children. However, I think you’re taking them out of context. Trump’s point was that the war against terrorists and ISIS in particular was too politically correct. There’s too much concern with the “rights” of these people. ISIS must be stopped, and if it takes torture of a member who we capture to get valuable intel, I’m all for it.

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Trump has said the minimum wage is too high, but also that he would maybe raise the minimum wage. Do you think he has an actual position on the minimum wage?

JOHNNY PREMIER: In fact, he stated his position on this issue very clearly. He believes the states should decide this issue, and it will foster healthy competition between states, and with other countries. Slightly more than 50 percent of the states have a higher floor than the current $7.25 an hour. And that makes sense. Cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York are obviously a hell of a lot more expensive to live in than rural areas.

And let me make this point very clear, Jeff. It is critical to the success of Trump’s candidacy that he support deferring to the states on many issues, not just minimum wage, and he has begun to do that. The majority of Americans believe there is too much power concentrated in Washington, D.C. This is one issue we can hammer Hillary on!

JEFF PEARLMAN: In your gut, Hillary-Trump—who wins this election, and what’s the margin?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I remember a year ago, the odds that a leading offshore sportsbook gave Trump to win was 20-1. It is now 2-1. At the risk of this Quaz ending up on @OldTakesExposed I’d suggest you bet on Trump. The Democrats were not inspired by Hillary in 2008 when she resoundingly lost to Obama in the primaries, and they’re certainly not inspired now after the Benghazi and e-mail mess, the big PAC money, and everything else. Bernie Sanders is still mathematically alive on May 23, 2016!

Meanwhile, Trump is a superstar. The Republican Party is getting in line, and that will happen more and more as the election draws near. Plus, you’ve gotta remember, Jeff … politics is in large part a “work.” I think WWE Hall of Famer Donald Trump learned a lot through his association with the company, dating back to hosting two WrestleMania’s at Trump Plaza in the 1980s. Underestimate him at your peril.

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• Five all-time favorite political figures: I’m going to resist being a wise-ass and writing “Ronald Reagan” five times. An absolute legend. The way he handled the 1981 air traffic controller strike inspired me at a young age. Put it this way—if Jimmy Carter had still been in office, that union would have owned him. 1. Ronald Reagan. 2. Jesse Ventura. Absolutely shocked the world—it’s awesome that a guy with muluti-colored hair who spent 20 years as a pro wrestler and commentator could become Governor of Minnesota. Brilliant guy who sometimes gets in his own way with the conspiracy theory stuff. Definitely appeals to the more Libertarian side of my brain; 3. Trump; 4. Rush Limbaugh. Might have lost a step, but people forget how much impact he had in the early 90s in stopping the left-wing agenda of Bill Clinton and his cronies. I went to liberal Clark University for undergrad, and he helped get me through those years; 5. Gonna leave this open for a politician who will come to lead the Republican Party into the future. Someone like Trump without the baggage?

• How did you become a Jets fan?: Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko, the New York Sack Exchange! They were awesome, man—so much so that I’ll forgive Gastineau for giving America his reality show family. And of course the image of Joe Namath walking off the field after Super Bowl III. Iconic. I was hooked.

In the years since there’s been the Dan Marino fake spike, Browning Nagle, loud boos at the NFL draft, Belichick “I resign as Head Coach of the New York Jets” … you and I both know the pain. The Jets have taken a lot of money from me and given back precious few satisfying moments. Life as a fan, I suppose. On a personal level, I’m finding it hard to root against the Rex Ryan Bills. I really like Rex—he worked hard to change the culture.

• If Hillary Clinton wins, how do you think Trump supporters will respond/react?: Well, I can tell you what won’t happen. You won’t be reading whiny things from us like, “if Trump loses we move to Canada” like you hear from the liberal elite. The Barbra Streisand/George Clooney types. Trump supporters are proud Americans, and we respect the democratic process. Huge difference!

• Who should be the next appointee to the Supreme Court?: Joan Larsen from Michigan, used to clerk for Justice Scalia. Solid!

• Five reasons one should make Las Vegas his/her home?: Man, it is awesome here! I used to be a loyal Bill Simmons reader—before he became a professional podcaster—and found his transition from Boston Sports Guy to LA to be interesting. He’d always remark how you get “sucked in” by the weather here and how hard it is to go back. And I didn’t buy it … until I got sucked in. Jeff, it rains here, like, once a month! Every day is sunny! Spending the first 39 years of my life in the northeast, you do not take that for granted. And the cost of living is ridiculously cheap. I spend half the money for a place that’s twice as nice as my New York City apartment.

People always talk about the casinos, Vegas has every type of entertainment possible, the best restaurants, high culture, low culture … everything except a pro sports team, which will be rectified soon by an NHL team or the Raiders (and, possibly, both)!

• What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?: Was paid $20 to eat a bug when I was a kid. Blew it at the arcade.

• In exactly 17 words, make a case for Rich Kotite: Is this a serious question? Worst. Jets. Coach. Ever. Clueless Rich Kotite does not deserve seventeen words.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Can’t say that I’ve had a moment like that great scene in “Almost Famous.” As Slammin’ Sammy Sosa would say, airplanes been berry berry good to me. So far …

• What’s your take of Bernie Sanders?: It’s wonderful to see how Bernie continues to win states—he trounced Hillary in Oregon. He continues to destroy her on the issue of accepting huge PAC donations from the biggest corporations. And the $250,000 speeches … look, I support free enterprise, people should make as much as their talent merits. But those on the socialist side of the Democrats hate it. Also, there’s something overtly corrupt about Hillary, and Bernie’s supporters sense it. I don’t think there will be a unified party coming out of the Democratic Convention.

• When was the “again” Donald Trump is referring to, as far as America’s greatness?: Let’s not over-analyze an awesome slogan! Look, people use nostalgia to market themselves, as a way to harken to better days … whether they actually were really better or not (I do not want to go back to life before cell phones and Internet).

Trump is awesome at marketing and branding, and it fits beautifully. Think about it … how many national campaign slogans can you remember through the years? Come on Jeff, you know you want the hat.

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Na’il Diggs

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I know many professional athletes, and a solid 78.7 percent are unable to break from the death grip of cliche.

You ask a question, they reply in the mindless language of men and women taught to speak while saying nothing of consequence. They’re happy to be here. They just wanna help. They’re blessed by the lord above. Blah, blah, blah.

Na’il Diggs, the former standout NFL linebacker and my fellow Southern California resident, is anything but your common jock. First, he’s insightful. Second, he’s honest. Third, he goes deep. Like, really deep. About life and death, highs and lows, tackling quarterbacks and tackling depression. I first spoke with Na’il about a year ago, while reporting my upcoming Brett Favre biography, and he was terrific. Then, a few months back, he kindly attended my journalism class at Chapman University. Another terrific experience.

Na’il lives in San Diego, where he coaches youth football, co-hosts the Chargers’ NBC Football Night telecast and blogs (beautifully) here. One can follow Na’il on Twitter and not go wrong. He’s a true gem. This week Na’il explains the rockiness of life after the NFL, when one gazes into the mirror and thinks, “What now?” He also tells you what it feels like to absorb the worst blow, why NFL players are slabs of meat and how my teeth are destined to rot.

Na’il Diggs was No. 59 on the Green Bay Packers.

He’s No. 1 (well, No. 258) with the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Na’il, much has been written and discussed through the recent years of the impact head injuries are having on retired NFL players. It’s certainly a huge issue, but here’s what I want to request: Can you explain the social difficulties athletes face when they retire? The adjustment to the “real world”? No more Superman cape, no more screaming fans. Because it strikes me as potentially brutal—and somewhat overlooked.

NA’IL DIGGS: It’s interesting you use the Superman analogy. Do you know Superman’s greatest strength? Its not his laser beaming eyes or his superhuman strength. It’s his alter ego, Clark Kent. His disguise is his greatest asset because he can be perceived as someone who is “normal” in the world.  Unlike Clark Kent, pro athletes do not have the luxury of being someone else after we remove our proverbial capes. We don’t have a normal job that we can walk right into and be someone other than who we were perceived as. As a professional athlete, transitioning from his or her professional career is sometimes the most difficult opponent we’ve ever had to face.

In my 12 NFL seasons as linebacker, I’ve had to tackle running backs like Brandon Jacobs, Jerome Bettis and Adrian Peterson. But I had the time to prepare and practice for those challenges. None of them prepared me for the challenge of transitioning from my NFL career.

In addition to the peaks and valleys of reinventing oneself, like a lot of former NFL players, I suffer from memory and speech impairments from playing linebacker in the NFL for 12 seasons. After being retired for nearly five years, transitioning is still an ongoing process and struggle for me. Sometimes I feel like my mind is so scrambled that even if I were doing something I loved, I’m not sure I could enjoy it. Take my NFL career for instance. Toward the end, I did not enjoying playing the game any more. The fan interaction, the attention and playing against my peers was great all the way through to my last game against the Oakland Raiders on January 2, 2012, but keeping my body and mind together became too cumbersome and an overwhelming struggle. Recently, I remember watching the movie “Concussion” and feeling so sad by the events that happened to my NFL brothers. I felt a sense of despair because even as graphic as the movie was, I’m sure its impossible to relay what really occurred in those men’s life. The mental conditions that former and current players are experiencing are very real.

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J.P.: What does it feel like to be absolutely laid out? Like, to take a blow like 99.9 percent of people reading this will never take? And do you recall the worst hit of your career? What/when was it?

N.D.: There’s a laundry list of hits that I can vividly recall, but I definitely have one at the top of that list. The year was 2009, I was playing for the Carolina Panthers and we were playing the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome. I was on punt team and we were punting the ball to the Falcons. The ball was snapped, the Falcons came with an all-out rush and blocked the punt from a few gaps away. When I heard the double thud of the punter’s foot hit the ball and then the ball hitting the defender’s hand, I immediately looked up to locate the ball. As I did, I saw a Falcons defender catching the ball 10 years in front of me so I then had to become the tackler. As I went in for the tackle, I wrapped my arms around the ball carrier and began to drag him down, but right then I felt this excruciating pain on the left side of my ribs. I winced as I brought the ball carrier down. I could not breathe, I could not move and it felt like I was hit by an f-ing car. The crowd noise dissipated and I rolled off the player onto my back and laid still on the ground, grabbing my left side. After the trainers came to help me off the field to the onsite X-ray lab. I learned I had three fractured ribs and fluid was building up in my lungs. We lost that game. After watching the game film I saw that I was speared with my own teammate’s helmet. He was intending to help with the tackle but ducked his head and hit me instead. We call that “friendly fire” and it hurt like hell.

J.P.: I know a lot of  professional athletes who, at some point, come to the realization that, to the organizations, they’re mere pieces of meat. But I wonder: A. Is this actually true, from your experiences? B. If so, when does one realize such? C. How does the knowledge impact one’s loyalty to a franchise and/or owner?

N.D.: First, to answer Part A, in my experience, the feeling of cattle herding lessened after the NFL Scouting Combine. But the reality that I was expendable grew exponentially. We are commodities. Although some organizations treated me better than others—I was still just cattle. If you examine what we do, strip away the fancy uniforms, the cool shoes and the spectacle of television, football starts to resemble gladiators in Ancient Rome.

Second, Part B: I realized I was just a number at the NFL Combine. The NFL Combine is a close No. 2 behind training camp in my personal battle for my least-favorite times in the NFL. I completely and totally despise the Combine! I have never felt so demeaned in my life. It felt as though I was an 18th-century slave. No chains and whips, but very demeaning nonetheless. I remember being given a number and carted through a series of meetings, tests, interviews and physicals. Not the turn-your-head-and-cough physical, but a poking-tugging-prodding-of-every-single-joint physical. The medical staffs of all 32 teams get to examine you … and don’t let them find something! You’ll be there all day and night doing multiple tests until they’re done. The stringent procedures mimics a meat company’s process (minus the steel rod being shot into our skulls) in many ways. On top of all that shit, we have to navigate back to our hotel rooms through a lobby full of media and financial advisors salivating for a chance to help “advise” us with our money we haven’t earned yet.

Finally, Part C of your question: The impact becomes very apparent at a certain age. There’s a point in a player’s career when the lights turn on and you see behind the glitz and glamour of all the accolades and fame that have distracted you before. Your attention begins to focus. The static disappears and you realize what this game and these wealthy franchises are made of. It becomes obvious that it’s made of the blood, sweat and tears of the men who wore the same jerseys and lockers before us. That’s the point when I learned that I need to get what I can and get the hell out as healthy as possible. Playing for Carolina was the shot across the bow for me. The game just felt different after I left Green Bay. That’s when I started awakening from the dream.

J.P.: You have one of the most astonishing—and heartbreaking—backstories of any person I’ve ever known. You were born and raised in Glendale, Arizona, but moved to South Central LA when at age 14, your mother died. You were rescued, if that’s the right word, by an older sister, Roslyn, who took you in. Na’il—I know I’m butchering this story. Can you please tell what happened to you as a boy?

N.D.: I was raised in a white, middle-class city called Glendale, Arizona, which is a suburb of Phoenix. It currently houses the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium. When I was living in Glendale, there was nothing but desert where that stadium sits now. When I was 14-years old my mother suddenly passed away from a brain aneurysm and was instantly brain dead. I was in Los Angeles visiting my sister, Roslyn, for the summer. I would go there to give my mom a little reprieve for a month or two during the summer, plus it was too damn hot in Phoenix. I vividly remember hearing my sister get the early morning phone call. I was sleeping on a pullout sofa right by the kitchen in the living room. I had an eerie feeling in my gut. I remember having this overwhelming feeling of fear and helplessness as I heard my sister begin to weep and cry, “Nooo.” There aren’t too many things in this world that could make my sister react that way.

Soon after the funeral, I permanently moved with my sister and her two daughters, along with her husband and his two kids, to South Central Los Angeles. Life completely flipped upside down. I went from white suburbs to South Central LA; from all white friends to all black friends; from being the lone child to one of four. With the school year quickly approaching, my sister enrolled me in the nearest school, Dorsey High School. At this time, I was disinterested in sports and was in a bit of a fog—I was depressed. She encouraged me to play football again because she realized I needed some sort of an emotional outlet. Plus, college was expensive and she wasn’t going to be able to all of a sudden save to afford four years of college in three years. That didn’t leave her with much time with me, so she badgered me about my grades and persisted to chaperone me as much as she could to make sure I wasn’t derailed from the goal. She made sure I would come home after my high school job at Mel’s Fish Market instead of going to hang out with friends. I still hung out a little, though. I didn’t much care at the time but Dorsey was—and still is—one the best high schools in Los Angeles for producing NFL players. I commend her because somehow in a few months’ time, she put a 14-year-old boy, who just lost his mother, in the right positions to sprout his wings and fly. And so that’s exactly what I did.

After an eventful journey through high school and somehow evading the allure of the neighborhood (being shot, gangs and drugs), I earned a full scholarship to pretty much any college in America. I chose The Ohio State University and never looked back. For a more on this story, you can read a post on my blog that I titled, “The Rose Grew From Concrete.”

Pursing Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez.

Pursing Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez.

J.P.: What was your mother like? Who was she?

N.D.: My mother was strict but loving. What I remember most is that she always had me playing a sport. Whether it was track and field, football or baseball, I never had much time to goof around. But I always seemed to find a little trouble to get into from time to time. She was divorced from my father when I was too young to remember and raised me the best she knew how. She was considered “older” when she gave birth to me at the age of 37. I was the last of four, the youngest by 14 years, so I was the only one in the house growing up. I had plenty of time to get into a little mischief because she worked nights as a live-in nurse for elderly persons. Although, I was the last to be in the house, I didn’t get as much attention as a single child normally would. She worked her tail off to keep the lights on, food on the table and a roof over our heads. I didn’t get all the new style clothes and shoes my friends had, but that was the way it was. That’s all I knew. Sometimes we would have to go to the county line to get some block cheese, powdered milk and bread because she didn’t have enough to get groceries. We moved a lot and I changed schools quite a bit as well. Because she worked nights, I would come home from school and I was responsible for doing my homework, completing chores and making myself dinner. I wouldn’t always complete those tasks and when I didn’t, I got an early wake up call. She would make me get up, when she got home from work, to complete my chores that I neglected, such as washing the dishes or taking out the trash. Once, I remember damn near falling asleep at the sink washing dishes in the dark hours of the morning. Whether she knew it or not, she taught me the daunting value of responsibility. In a way she still lives through me. To this day, I am on top of my chores and I can’t stand a messy room or house. Yes!! My kitchen sink is clean and free of dishes every night before I go to bed. From her few-and-carefully-selected friends to her tutelage of discipline, what she instilled in me still has everlasting impact in my life.

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J.P.: A couple of weeks ago Ryan Grant Skyped with my Chapman University class, and he talked about life at Notre Dame, and how at the same time he was playing big-time college football at a storied university, he didn’t have enough money to eat. He considers the whole thing a messed-up system; yes, athletes get scholarships and perks, but they can’t have jobs, can’t sell autographs, give away their likeness and name usage for life. His conclusion: Athletes absolutely need to be paid. What about you? How do you feel about it? Is the NCAA duping athletes? Or can the argument be made that, hey, you’re getting scholarships and amazing opportunities?

N.D.: When I hear the arguments from the college’s administration and faculty members, who make up the NCAA committee, it’s apparent that they feel as though the educational value of the full-ride scholarship they are giving the student-athlete is significant compensation. Which is true—these universities are shelling out a substantial amount of ‘virtual’ money for their scholarship student-athletes to attend their respective universities. Just ask the parents of a non-scholarship student and they’ll confirm that college tuition takes years of saving and enormous amounts of student loans to afford; this country’s climbing student loan debt serves as proof.

But these schools are profiting far more than that scholarship is worth monetarily—through TV deals, bowl game sponsorships, ticket sales, concessions and jersey sales. It’s easy to lose focus on the business of college sports because we enjoy watching these innocent young athletes compete. It’s such a staple in the American way of life that we forget why these collegiate sports even exist. These schools carry these sports programs to make money. There’s no mistake about it—for most universities, the major sports like football, basketball and baseball generate the revenue necessary to build new campus facilities, pay coaches salaries and bonuses and pay for the multi-million dollar stadium expansion projects these schools continually fund to attract more and better athletes that will bring in more and more revenues. This business model sounds a lot like one of a pro sports franchise.

There is a more prevalent problem that underlies not allowing full-ride athletes compensation. By not paying these scholarship athletes to work, you are greatly increasing their susceptibility to having financial mismanagement issues in the future. They haven’t worked so they don’t have as much exposure to earn a check, save and allocate for bills, etc. The best chance for these student-athletes to learn is from their parents, who, unfortunately, often were also not taught these basic principles. Whether it’s a lacrosse player who is going to work at a tech company or an NFL player being drafted. These post-college athletes will be equally faced with the same daunting, sometimes financially fatal, task of learning the importance of basic financial management. The difference in magnitude is the lacrosse player will be making what 99 percent of the world earns. Meanwhile, the NFLer is possibly making hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Asking a 22-year-old to manage that drastic change in the quality of life can be overwhelming. I know it was for me. The tools and experience they failed to learn are a result of ignorance by the institutions coupled with a failed capitalistic business model we call college education.

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

N.D.: My greatest moment was getting drafted into the NFL. It was a longtime dream come true. I was so naive and terrified but excited at the same time. More than getting drafted, the lessons I learned during that draft process and during my career were profound. I learned about fife, what trust really means, how to persevere through failure and how to handle success. Preparing weekly to play at that level took a tremendous amount of willpower and belief in myself. Learning what the mind and body are capable of was an exquisite realization to someone who thought himself to be indestructible. It’s one thing to be told that you can play in the pros, but it’s an entirely different animal doing it. I am extremely proud of my accomplishments and what I was able to achieve.

My lowest point is experiencing the post-career symptoms I feel on a daily basis. Every day I am hunted by the paradox of wishing I was not so reckless and careless with my body, but then again that is what made me valuable in such a physically brutalizing, gladiator sport. I suffer from memory and speech impairments from playing linebacker in the NFL for 12 seasons. It is not apparent in my everyday interactions with people but I definitely feel things are a little off at times. After being retired for nearly five years, transitioning is still an ongoing process and struggle for me. Sometimes I feel like my mind is so scrambled that even if I were doing something I loved, I’m not sure I could enjoy it. Take my NFL career for instance. Toward the end, I did not enjoying playing the game anymore. The fan interaction, the attention and playing against my peers was great all the way through to my last game against the Oakland Raiders on January 2, 2012, but keeping my body and mind together became too cumbersome and an overwhelming struggle. Recently, I remember watching the movie “Concussion” and feeling so sad by the events that happened to my NFL brothers. I felt a sense of despair because even as graphic as the movie was, I’m sure it’s impossible to relay what really occurred in the lives of those men . The mental conditions that former and current players are experiencing are very real.

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J.P.: As you know, I’m working on a Brett Favre biography. And one thing that stands out is, especially late in his career, Favre was definitely treated differently than other players. Separate changing area, separate parking area, better food, etc. And we, in the media, jump all over this stuff. My question to you: Does it matter in the locker room? Does that sort of thing cause dissension, or do few care?

N.D.: When I was with Brett at the Packers, I never really cared that he had his own accommodations. I didn’t care about why he wouldn’t shower with everyone else. It never really bother me. I suppose it depends on who you ask, though. I recognize that it did bother some of the other teammates but what could you say—that was Brett Favre. I justified his private parking and security detail to just being “big time.” I feel like Michael Jordan and other sports icons had special privileges, too. It makes sense that when he went to other teams, where he had no legacy or history, they regarded his behavior as a show of arrogance and isolation.

J.P.: Along those lines, after the whole Vikings-Saints Bountygate game, much was made of the evilness of paying players, trying to injure opponents, etc. But it seems like the general reaction—like, below the surface—was a big “meh.” Like, “Meh, this sort of thing happens ALL around the NFL.” Na’il, from your experiences—true? False? And did you ever take money or a prize for hurting someone?

N.D.: Yes, it’s true. There were bounties in the NFL. But it depended on which team I was playing for. Some defensive coordinators did it and some did not. Most of the time it was up to the veteran players to get it organized. It didn’t always involve money either. Sometimes it was just a medal or a championship boxing title belt or boxing glove for the hardest hit in the game. The winners on defense ranged from sack leaders, quarterback hits, caused fumbles, interceptions, etc. The offense had rewards as well for knockdown blocks or “pancakes.” I never heard of or took part in any sort if bounty that had to do with taking a guy out of the game or purposefully injuring an opponent. I’m not too sure if guys I played with would go so far as to take a guy out, but I’m sure there are stories out there of that happening.

J.P.: I live in a place where parents are nutso over sports. Many want their kids to become pro athletes, so they sign them up for multiple leagues, hire private coaches, force them to choose one when they’re, oh, 8 or 9. Do you think there’s some validity to this? Like, is it wise? And do you think those years in pro sports is worth the struggle?

N.D.: I personally have a problem with parents that who through their kids. I imagine that it is hard on the kid to endure when he can’t be who or what he/she wants to be. It’s sad because the parents identify with a version of themselves in their children and get so psychologically fixated with nostalgia that they really think they are their kids in a sick, funny kind of way. The parents try so hard to make up for some lack in their lives.

I’ve come to the conclusion that playing pro sports is a matter of timing, luck and God-given ability. Most of the time, the best player doesn’t make it for a lack of one of those three things. I played with guys who had far greater talent than I had, and for whatever reason, they didn’t reach it to college, much less the pros. When I was young, I wasn’t trying to go play in the NFL, I was just trying to go out and kick ass, have fun and be great at football.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Duce Staley, Nathan’s French fries, gorgonzola turkey sliders, Barry Manilow, the iPad, hamsters, Dexys Midnight Runners, Wrigley Field, Stairway to Heaven, REO Speedwagon, denim, Chris Farley: Duce Staley, Nathan’s French Fries, iPad, Turkey Sliders, Wrigley Field, Chris Farley, Stairway to Heaven, Barry Manilow, Denim, Hamsters, REO Speedwagon, Dexys Midnight Runners

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, I have my pilot’s license and have never felt a real threat of death. I am super comfortable with flying and being in the air. Well, maybe the time I flew in the backseat of an F-18 Hornet. I never knew a plane could do that. I blacked out six times!

• In 18 words, make a case for Tim Tebow’s Hall of Fame candidacy: Uhhh … ummmm … people like him?? [shoulders shrug with fake smiley face]

• Is twirling a sport?: Sure. As long as it’s with flaming objects in the dark or with nunchucks.

Celine Dion calls and offers you $3 million to be her Las Vegas personal trainer for the next two years. She demands loyalty, decency and that every single workout includes you repeating the mantra, “Celine means love … Celine means love.” You in?: Hell Yeah!! I’ll have her ripped up.

• Should marijuana be legalized?: Yes, I think it could really help people with severe pain and certain mood disorders.

• Five reasons one should make San Diego his/her next vacation destination?: 1. It is truly America’s Finest City; 2. San Diego Zoo; 3 Legoland; 4. The consistently beautiful weather; 5. Gaslamp District

• The greatest meal you ever had was where?: Although I don’t eat beef anymore—a medium-well filet mignon with a side of lobster mashed potatoes from Mastro’s Steakhose in Scottsdale, Arizona is by far the absolute best meal I have ever had. If I was headed to the electric chair tomorrow, that would be my last meal.

• I love soda. Love, love, love soda. Am I damned to rotting teeth and hell?: Definitely the former.

• We can get you your own ESPN show right now, but you have to sit across a table screaming at people for an hour. You in?: No. That just isn’t my personality and frankly drives me crazy! Listening to shows like that raises my blood pressure and gives me road rage.

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Mark Barden

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Mark Barden has the answers.

This must be true, because it costs $25,000 to him as a speaker. And that’s a lot of coin. And experts get lots of coin. So, hey.

But there’s more. Mark Barden has the answers because, truly, answers are his thing. As one of the managing partners of eatbigfish, a strategic brand consultancy, he has consulted such brands as Audi, Pepsi and eBay. He’s also helped in the launch of such entities as Own (skincare) and Lark (personal technology). Last year he made his literary debut with the book, “A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business Now.”

One can follow Mark on Twitter here, and visit his website here.

Mark Barden, welcome to the land of answers—the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Mark, you’re a problem solver, as well as an inhabitant of earth, so I’m gonna throw this out you: Climate change scares the living shit out of me, and I feel like humanity is too stupid and self-absorbed to do anything about it. I worry that my kids, or grandkids, are going to live through hell because we were unwilling to do anything but take selfies and watch the Kardashians. So is there a solution? And are you as hopeless about this as I am?

MARK BARDEN: Nice softball to begin with. Thanks! This is a serious question and I’ll provide a serious answer. Yes, you’re right to be freaked out. I am, too. But no, I’m not as hopeless as you are. And yes, there may be some solutions.

There are two parts to the long answer below. The first has to do with how we change hearts and minds and mobilize people. Any debate on climate change has to address this. Most politicians and business leaders will follow public opinion more than they will lead it, and people must send a stronger signal that they want change. As a marketer, I see “selling” climate change as a critical issue in how to fix it.

I’ll start with a little story about seeing Ira Glass live on stage (which is as odd as it sounds, but very compelling). The latest IPCC data had come out that day, and in an apparently unscripted moment he referenced it. Just as the audience was riding a wave of enthusiasm for all things This American Life, he stopped the show, and with barely contained emotion said, “I just don’t understand why this isn’t the ONLY thing we’re talking about as a society.” In that moment it all seemed so desperate. He left us hanging in total silence until he composed himself, and then continued with the show. But I feel the same way, and have thought hard about why we’re not all talking about it.

The situation is desperate. If you’re not freaked out, you’re not paying attention. Scientists are certainly freaked out. If what’s known as a “positive feedback loop” kicks in and a steady warming trend suddenly “tips” into runaway warming (which is a distinct possibility if large areas of permafrost melts, releasing huge amounts of methane, for example) then it’s even worse than it looks today. The time to start changing things was 20 years ago.

However, social scientists have learned that shouting about the increasingly dire news won’t to change attitudes and behavior, as it makes people go into denial mode. The same social scientists have been saying for years that our own biology works against us when it comes to making changes that benefit the long-term, because we’re wired to pay attention to immediate threats of the saber toothed tiger baring down on us, not the dangers a decade or two from now. And now the message that too much “crisis messaging” stops people from engaging!? Oy. This is complicated stuff. Add to this your notion that we are “amusing ourselves to death” to use Neil Postman’s phrase, and it becomes apparent why so little is happening.

It’s frustrating.

And yet, we are learning a huge amount about how to communicate on this issue, and how to provide the “nudges” to get people to act.

What I’d love to see is all of the knowledge base—all the social scientists, some of the best marketers, and policy makers—come together, learn from all of it, and start creating a set of best practices that can be 10x as effective in creating attitude and behavior change. Marketing science has come a long way in the last decade, with the likes of Google analytics and the understanding the Facebook guys have about what drives clicks and sharing. If these groups joined hands, pooled knowledge, and gave up some of their considerable real estate (ad space) to campaigning on this issue, we could accelerate change. And I think we’re closer than we think on this. There’s already a great infrastructure of change agents out there who’ve been mobilizing. Change often seems like its not going to happen until it does, and then it comes fast. Remember how quickly the Berlin Wall came down? How quickly attitudes toward gay marriage have changed? The same thing is poised to happen on climate change, I feel, but needs a really smart effort to create and harness the groundswell that’s already there.

If that groundswell grew, we could create pressure for some of those nudges. For example, a carbon tax creates the kind of short-term “threat” people will notice and respond to now, reducing carbon use, further incentivizing the growth of alternative energy. It may not be popular, but a more switched-on public could accept it. Carbon tax revenues could be rebated to the poor (so those who can ill afford it are not penalized by a carbon tax), as well as fund the continued search for solutions, which can be part of the policy agenda.

You can probably tell something about my politics from this last paragraph. I believe the government has to provide some big “nudges” to speed the process of change, not just in tax policy but in funding R&D. Steven Johnson makes a compelling case in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, about how important the kinds of non market-driven, but highly connected liquid networks of academia (he calls this the “fourth quadrant” of innovation) help fuel the innovation of free markets, which then feed back money and ideas into academia. Google is a great example of this. Born of Stanford CS labs, it changed the world, made loads of money, and is using its wealth in the private sector as well as feeding funds back into more fundamental academic research. We need innovation everywhere to crack climate change. There are many solutions already but much more to be done on, say, algae and the mythical cold-fusion. So tax carbon to make us all pay attention now and take action short term now, and use the money to drive research and funding for longer-term solutions. A carbon tax is just one idea that’s been proposed, but it seems to me to have many benefits.

And, quite honestly, we need to address the doublespeak and shameless cynicism of the oil companies—and the politicians they fund—who’ve been lying about climate change for literally 35 years. I just don’t know what to say about people who would knowingly sacrifice civilization for the sake of profit. Is there any other word than evil? We need to punish people for this kind of corporate malfeasance in the courts. Fines can go to funding the alternative energy development those companies could have been profiting from if they’d had the values and vision a few decades ago. And putting the lies and liars on display for all to see would help drive the change agenda. If there is one thing that we know drives behavior change, it’s the feeling of being duped and treated unfairly. Revealing the manipulative agenda of the tobacco companies, for instance, did more to drive down smoking amongst teens than any pictures of black lung. The same could work in the oil arena.

And we need more strong leadership in corporations. We’re starting to see it more and more from CEOs like Paul Polman of Unilever, Elon Musk, and the likes of Google who are working hard on sustainability issues. These people seem to care personally, as well as know they have to fix the issues if they want a future in which they can continue to sell what they make. We should do everything we can to support them, as governments and consumers. A lot of consumer spending is moving toward companies that are doing the right thing and it will continue.

And despite the doom and gloom we need leaders to paint a positive picture of what society can look like in a zero carbon world — jobs, life, health, and a thriving economy driven by cheap and abundant energy. This is a time for leadership. Provide a positive vision, paint the picture, lead people toward what is possible, with optimism, hope hope and ingenuity, and create a huge appetite and mandate for it. The dystopian future narrative is far too strong in our culture and we need an alternative. The ideas in The World We Made provide a start. Read it.

Despite how things look today, it’s worth noting that on just about all the important metrics—literacy, deaths by warfare, decline of fatal diseases, and so on—we are doing far, far better than what we might think from looking at the world through the lens of what Peter Diamandis calls the Catastrophy News Network (CNN). Relatively speaking, the world is in good shape and making progress, and the future can be even better. Although his notion of abundance can all feel a little techno-utopian at times, the idea that the convergence of so many world-changing technologies is happening today gives a certain amount of credence to the notion that our economy, and how we power it, will be wholly different in just a few years.

What really seems to be at the heart of many of our troubles at the moment is our delusional sense of separateness. This may be the bigger crisis that must be addressed. It amounts to a transformation of consciousness. We see ourselves as separate from nature, something we can control, when we are but a small, integral, part of a massive whole. We see ourselves as separate selves, when clearly our flourishing is wrapped up entirely in our connection to other people in our families and our communities. We see ourselves as separate nations, when clearly what happens over there has dramatic influence on what happens over here. Some of the “blame” for this must lie at the feet of modern consumer society which so powerfully associates happiness to our actions as consumers, and has come to define us too much. We love our stuff, but stuff’s not making us truly fulfilled. We love our social feeds, but the way we’re using them today is turning us into hollow narcissists. Those of us lucky enough not be distracted by the daily struggle to make ends meet are beginning to realize this. Part of the transition to what’s next must involve a post-capitalist, post individualist world; an evolved set of values about what success, and growth, and meaning, are derived from. I realize this is the height of irony coming from a marketer, but being so close to it, I think I’ve been able to start seeing it for what it really is.

But back to the core question: whether all of this change can happen in time. It will be very tight. On the climate, we may well have to resort to some of the more crazy geo-engineering solutions (giant mirrors in space to reflect some of the sun’s heat, for example!) to mitigate our worst impacts, and that will not be easy to do, or to build global consensus around. These will be challenging times for humanity even if we get our act together soon. But on balance I think I’ll back us. Just. We have a decent track record of not wiping ourselves out, and what it will require to beat climate change — huge collective action, massive innovation, the complete transformation of our values and economy — is the biggest opportunity we’ve ever had to prove what we’re capable of.

What if it’s not enough? Or we can’t move fast enough? Well, it gets really ugly for a while. But I draw just a little solace from the fact that humanity is just one of millions of evolutionary experiments taking place across the universe, and though we have produced more remarkable ideas in a very short period of time than we could have once imagined, if we fail as an experiment, life goes on. The planet will be fine. Within a thousand years it will be hard to see any visible trace of people.

J.P.: Your bio says, among other things, you “played a Buddhist monk in a Kleenex commercial.” Can you please explain this one for us?

M.B.: Wow! This is going to be a tough transition, but here goes. The Kleenex commercial is one of the few good things that have happened to me as the result of being bald.

The commercial in question was promoting anti-microbial tissues that kill 99.9% of germs. The “star” of the commercial is a Buddhist monk opposed to killing in any form. But unknowingly he uses the tissue, is horrified at killing germs, and his serenity is transformed into a guttural scream.

One of my former partners at an ad agency I’d started (Black Rocket) had become a director of commercials, and for someone bizarre reason had found himself unable to cast the monk. Evidently he had a picture of me in his mind, and so he just called out of the blue, ran over with his hand held camcorder and shot a quick demo. I’d never acted before in my life, so how he sold this to the Kleenex client I’ll never know. It was a huge shoot for them, so surely this was risky? But it happened. And I loved it.

At the time I wondered if this was all some way for Bob, the director, to make up to me a little. He was a spikey character, and we’d had a tempestuous working relationship that resulted in me leaving my own agency before the other partners sold it for a lot of money. Maybe Bob was turning the karmic wheel a little by providing me with some residuals from the shoot. There’s nothing quite like popping out to the mailbox every few days for a few months and finding a check for $26.72 one day, and $13.43 the next.

The best part was sitting on the sofa back home in the UK with my parents when the ad came on. We watched it in silence, then there was a pause, and then my dad said, without any conviction, “he looked a bit like you?” Hysterical

J.P.: You’ve co-authored a book, “A Beautiful Constraint,” that calls for something you refer to as “constraint-driven problem solving.” I have no idea what this means. Please explain.

M.B.: So much problem-solving is driven by the fabled “blue sky thinking” where there are no limits placed on the ideas people are allowed to have. There’s some evidence to support that this is an effective way to generate ideas, it’s just that so few of them are implementable because they are often ungrounded, disconnected from the realities of the business. At the same time, there’s an assumption that more resource, know-how, money, power, and so on is better. If we had unconstrained resources we could solve all our problems, right? Yet the concept of The Resource Curse in economics shows that’s not always the case. Nigeria has tons of oil revenue. But what kind of economy and society have they built as a result? One more corrupt than before and not much less impoverished. George Lucas had progressively more money to make each subsequent Star Wars movie, but did they get any better? Not according to ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. And in our own work with challengers—the “little fish” handicapped in some key way—we found that the constraints were often the very source for inventiveness, and not an impediment to it.

Our book proposes starting at the other end then, with the constraints and limitations not without them. We ask people to embrace them as the source of solutions. This is not a new idea, but it felt like one that needed a champion, especially given the times we live in (see above). And it turns out there is a ton of evidence that constraints can be powerful stimulus for creative thinking. Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat In That Hat when he was challenged to produce a book first graders cannot put down, drawing only from a list of 225 CVC words (consonant, vowel, consonant). At first he thought it impossible, but of course it created the unique style the world knows and loves, and made his books best sellers.

We see this general idea playing out again and again.

It was the lack of water in the Israeli desert that forced the invention of drip irrigation, and wars with their neighbors that forced the same Israeli farmers to export their abundance to Europeans—who paid them higher prices. It was the lack of natural resources on the island of Taiwan that forced the government to develop human capital through education, creating one of the most affluent countries on earth. And it was the imposition of a time constraint—the shot clock—that made the modern NBA into the high-energy run-and-gun game of today.

These stories of “beautiful constraints” are everywhere, and yet most people, if asked, would prefer to not be constrained. In fact, many people find it really hard to get started when the appearance of a constraint seems to make things impossible. So the book is a manifesto for constraint-based ideation, to make visible to people that constraints can be allies.

And it’s a how-to book that gives people just enough process to get started. Most of us understand “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade” but there’s very little written about the recipe for lemonade making. We drew on the academic literature, our own work, and dozens of personal interviews with all kinds of people—school teachers, healthcare professionals, military leaders, video-game designers—to prove that this capability is widespread and not the special domain of the creative geniuses of Silicon Valley. We’d like as many people as possible to feel more comfortable about the idea of finding beauty in constraints.

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J.P.: So you’re probably the 7,654,333rd human to present himself as having answers. I don’t say this snidely—from Wayne Dyer to Dr. Oz to Dr. Phil to Vince Lombardi, Jr., the world seems overrun by people who serve to tell other people how to better themselves. So why should we listen to you, and not Wayne?

M.B.: I won’t suggest that anyone should listen to us over Wayne Dyer, or Oprah, or Vince Lombardi. I’m familiar with at least some of their advice and a lot of it seems very good. I don’t see advice as a zero-sum game. There can never be too much good advice in a world that seems to need plenty of it.

But we felt that our book needed to be written because we live in an age of constraints, and most of us don’t have a healthy relationship with them. We wanted to provide a tool kit for people to use. Like many advice books, A Beautiful Constraint has lots of inspiring stories, but it also lays down just enough process that anyone can use it to get started making constraints beautiful.

J.P.: As a partner at eatbigfish, you consult with companies, devise ideas to improve their productivity, efficiency, etc. I know this is a broad question, but what are most people doing wrong? Is there a common thread of screwing up?

M.B.: That is broad, so I’ll go broad with my answer about the common thread: the crisis of meaning in the modern workplace. People often don’t care enough about what they’re doing. They are not motivated enough to succeed, and the places they work for aren’t doing enough to help. People’s work is disconnected from the larger purpose, and/or there is no meaningful larger purpose for them to connect their work to in the first place. When failure happens, it’s very often to do with that: a lack of connection to why we’re doing this.

The best companies are addressing this issue today and working hard to define a mission that people can really get and get into. Not the dire nonsense that resides in most corporate mission statements, but a real purpose. If you’ve flown Virgin America I think you can tell that the crew feel like they are there to “put glamor back into the skies,” which contrast mightily with the way one feels on United. And most of my friends at Charles Schwab really believe in the power of investing to change fortunes, and will work hard to bring that to more people in a more fair and transparent way.

This idea of companies with a purpose to believe in is a huge idea in business today, and many of us are working to address it because it’s a winning strategy. Consumers want to know about purpose and will spend money on it. And employees want it. If we can find more meaning at work, we’ll have happier, more satisfied workers, keen to be more productive with less turnover, more loyalty, better day to day engagement, and better long term health outcomes, too. And then those firms will be more profitable. So there’s a virtuous circle beginning to spin around this idea. Daniel Pink has reviewed a lot of the data on this in his book Drive. It’s more complicated than this, but not much.

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J.P.: You work with a lot of companies. A lot of companies as seen as these evil entities by private citizens. You know what I mean—tax break-seeking, union-destroying, minimum wage-paying monoliths out to slice the heads off the lower and middle classes. So … is there anything to this?

M.B.: That’s another doozy that would take an entire book to even try to answer properly, but yes, I believe there is something to this.

First, I want to say that the vast majority of people I have met in my work have been honest, fair, hard-working people. It doesn’t help much to stereotype all business execs as villains, as it sets up yet another us vs. them distinction that immediately separates humanity in yet another way at a time when we should be doing far less of that kind thing. There are sometimes bad actors, of course. I already made my point about Exxon, and one could point to Enron, too. Goldman Sachs hardly cover themselves in glory, do they. There are nasty, corrupt people everywhere and sometimes they run powerful organizations.

And it has to be said that the idea that a corporation’s sole purpose is to maximize shareholder returns and drive the stock prices has become a dangerous idea that we must reexamine. The need to maximize against the one metric puts executives in a tough place when it could be odds with their role as employer, global citizen, steward of the environment and so on, and it reinforces the short-term thinking we see far too often in the corporate world. Steve Denning has written a brilliantly insightful piece on this, and it is well worth a read if you want to understand the roots of the problem.

We’re beginning to see strong benefits of triple bottom-line thinking (putting people, planet and profit on an equal footing) and the idea of the B-Corp is a move in the right direction. As discussed above, it helps some consumers and employees decide to whom to give their energy, and I hope it continues to sway the market. But there may be legislative change that’s needed, too.

Look, I’ve always felt that business is a game played by a given set of rules. The contest between players separates the good from the bad, as it’s the best way to make the system as a whole work better. Your basic Darwinian survival of the fittest is a dynamic that it is essential to protect. So if we don’t like how the game is being played, we should change the rules. For example, we have dramatically increased fuel efficiency of America’s cars by imposing higher CAFÉ standards on all automobile manufacturers. Car companies wouldn’t do this voluntarily because it is hard and expensive, but as they’re all under the same threat, they have responded. That was government setting rules and creating a level playing field for all players.

Tax rules are just a different set of rules. You can’t really blame corporations for finding and exploiting tax loopholes, can you, if they know there competitors are going to do it? But you can blame legislators for not closing them. Of course many of those legislators are in the pockets of the corporations who lobby for rules to be twisted, so that fix would probably require a larger fix of campaign finance reform first. If I were to identify a single issue that would help solve many more issues in the U.S. it would be money in politics, which corrupts absolutely. I’m with Lawrence Lessig and MAYDAY.US on that one.

J.P.: How’d you get here? I mean, I know what you do—but what’s the life path? When did the light bulb appear? Why?

To mis-quote Lemony Snicket, it was a series of fortunate events. I have never had a long-term life path, I’ve always followed my nose, and my nose is usually sniffing out adventure. Everything good that’s ever happened to me has come as a result of taking a small, but calculated risk that the choice I was about to make would be more fun and open more doors to more opportunities. I wasn’t always right, but that’s what’s driven me. I moved to the US when I was 28 because I sensed it was a big opportunity. I worked at the best ad agency (Wieden & Kennedy) on the best client (Nike) without really knowing it. I’m still connected to a lot of those same people today, and those relationships have opened dozens of doors for me.

I started my own agency because it seemed like the next obvious step. We won the Yahoo! account in our first week, and it put us on the map. But within months I realized I wasn’t going to be at my best at that place, so I left. When I came back from a year of travel the first dot-com boom was underway, and that felt like the obvious next step. That was PeoplePC, which flamed out after opening on 3 continents, going public, and blowing $500 million. Not an entirely happy experience, but guess where I learned the most about running a business?

That’s why I enjoy working with challenger brands. It’s just good to be around people who sense possibility and then go after it. I like that mindset, and I like being around entrepreneurs.

So no “light bulb” per se. In fact one really dreadful piece of advice is this “follow your passion” idea. If you have a passion, that’s fine. You’re blessed and you should go all out. But what if you don’t have the one thing that drives you? I didn’t. Must you feel really bad about it and conclude your life has no direction? I suspect that’s the impact this advice has on most people. I was always just intrigued by what might happen if I did X. No path.

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

M.B.: Greatest is watching my wife give birth to our two girls. Lowest is losing two very dear friends in separate incidents, one not yet 40, one just turned.

J.P.: I hear people say, “In America, anyone can make it!” I have been to Gary, Indiana, where almost no one makes it. What thinks you? Are we the land of “anything is possible” or the land of “anything is possible—but more possible for some than others”?

M.B.: This would take longer than my climate change answer to do justice to, so I’ll duck it with this: It used to be “anything is possible,” and now I’m not so sure.

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• Would you rather slice off your left arm with a rusty butcher’s knife or devote yourself to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for the rest of your life?: Lose the arm. I figure with a few years I can get an ever better one thanks to robotics. Everyone WILL be doing it. (With huge apologies to all the amputees out there. Jeff made me say it.)

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Kelvin Bryant, University of Southern Mississippi, Martha Stewart, cucumbers, Denver, Laura Linney, “Remains of the Day,” Chaka Kahn, Entourage, Magic Johnson, MacBook Pro: Cucumbers — ever had a fresh one, right off the vine from your own garden?; Laura Linney — have you seen P.S.?; Remains of the Day — I like me some Merchant Ivory if only to remember how stuck up my fellow countrymen can be; MacBook Pro — I can’t believe what this thing is capable of; Chaka Kahn — 1984, college, and the surprise some time later that Prince wrote I Feel For You; Magic Johnson — he’s still alive!; Entourage — douchey Hollywood types; Kelvin Bryant — who dat?; University of Southern Mississippi — all is forgiven, but hard to get off the bottom of this list.

Celine Dion calls. She offers you $25 million a year to be her personal advisor. You have to move to Las Vegas, work 360 days a year, shave off all your hair and change your son’s middle name to RoseDawson. You in?: I have no son and am already bald, so this one’s a no-brainer. Sure. What a tale it would be.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Pink? KO or decision?: Pink in 4. I see her as Marvelous Marvin and me as Ray Leonard after he got all old and dopey. I’d spend a good deal of the fight running away but be too slow to avoid the shots in the end.

• Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?: Just do It!

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Nope

• The worst movie you’ve ever seen is …: Star Wars. The Phantom Menace

• Who’s the most famous person you know?: Robert De Niro. He and I once had a diving contest off a boat in the Galapagos Islands. Huge overstretch to say I know him. He probably doesn’t remember me now.

• The people at my gym never clean off the StairMaster after sweating all over it. Give me a creative idea how to get revenge …: Really, just wipe it off yourself and get on with it. Take the high road, dude.

• One question you would ask Steve Grogan were he here right now: And you are …?

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Frank Sutherland

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When you’re young and newish and sitting in awe of things, people tend to appear larger than life. For example, to the up-and-coming singer maybe an audience with, oh, Eddie Vedder is akin to a visit with God. After a spell, though, he gets to know Vedder, sing with Vedder, eat with Vedder—and ultimately a legend becomes, well, just Eddie.

Back in the summer of 1994, when I graduated from the University of Delaware and, six days later, started as a reporter at The (Nashville) Tennessean, Frank Sutherland was as big as big can be. He was the newspaper’s editor; an imposing figure with a thick white beard and a booming voice. When you heard Frank was pleased, you made sure he saw you. When you heard Frank was pissed, you hid beneath your desk. At the end of every month, Frank would gather everyone together in the newsroom and salute the stories of the month. To have him call your name, well, it was (for young Jeffie) a validation of career choice. It meant everything.

Twenty two years later, I see Frank simply as a good guy, a righteous journalist and a symbol (for me) of the final era of newspaper supremacy. Under Frank, The Tennessean was still the place to go for information in Nashville. It boasted an enormous circulation, oodles of talented reporters and a historic pipeline to the New York Times. But, gradually, that changed. Like the industry as a whole, the paper is a shell of its former self. Bummer.

Frank retired from his editorship in 2004, but still has strong memories and opinions on newspapers, reporting, Rita Coolidge and once having gone undercover in a state psychiatric hospital.

Frank Sutherland, my former chief, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Frank, you worked at The Tennessean for a long time. As a reporter, as an editor. When you look at the newspaper now—and newspapers now—do you feel like crying? Is it hopeless? Do we all need to accept that newspapers—as a print medium—are pretty much dead?

FRANK SUTHERLAND: This question was asked after radio, then television, then the Internet, then …

News is not about the medium but the content. I read the news online every day before I go to the end of the driveway. Print will always be here but as color television is better than black and white, things evolve. I like horses but drive a car. Concentrate on the content and quit whining about the medium.

J.P.: During your time as a reporter, you once posed as a patient for 31 days at the Central State Psychiatric Hospital. Um, how did the assignment come about? How did you get in? And what memories do you have from the experience?

F.S.: At the newspaper, we were often told about bad conditions at the hospital, but complaints from mental patients lacked credibility when they were denied by doctors. The only way to get the truth was to go undercover. I was trained how to act depressed by a Vanderbilt psychiatrist—it is more difficult to frown than to smile. I posed as a potential suicide because the treatment would not be debilitating or affect my reporting abilities.

My most vivid memory was a comparison to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. My hospital was nowhere as clean as the book/movie and the interaction among patients did not translate to my experience. Except for rare episodes, life in the hospital was quiet and boring.

At the once-a-week group sessions with our social worker, I asked when I would get to see a psychiatrist. She said I would have to go on the outside and pay. How then, I asked, was I to get help in the hospital without seeing a doctor? She said the treatment was to get us to think about our problems, and if we think about our problems, we would get well.

From the Jan. 24, 1974 Tennessean front page ...

From the Jan. 24, 1974 Tennessean front page …

J.P.: You started writing for The Tennessean as a 17-year-old college freshman at Vanderbilt. I feel like lots of young people have no idea what the glory days of print newspaper were like. So … Frank, what was it like? The newsroom? The approach? The buzz?

F.S.: I was in awe of our ability to effect change. I have a photo of me at 17 interviewing Gov. Frank Clement. The stories I wrote affected lives and policy.

Most of us worked nights. We weren’t paid enough to go anywhere socially (in those days, nothing was open after midnight, anyway, except Linebaugh’s), so we hung out together in the newsroom at night, critiquing the news and journalism of the day. That was a tremendous, satisfying learning experience.

J.P.: I’ve sort of come to resent Gannett as a negative force in newspaper dumbing down. Nut graphs, limited jumps, tons of easy-to-read graphics. Tell me why I’m wrong. Or right?

F.S.: The company was not the only force for change, just among the first to recognize the threat to readership for newspapers that once had a monopoly on news presentation. The truth is that other newspapers and media companies, along with ASNE and other professional organizations, followed Gannett’s lead in the presentation issues you listed. The truth also is that these methods stalled somewhat but did not prevent younger generations from abandoning print for other media.

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J.P.: I know you were born at Smyrna Air Force Base, know you attended Vandy. But why journalism? When did you first have the bug? When did you know this was what you wanted to do?

F.S.: I had a scholarship, student loan and parental funding but no laundry or walking around money, so I had to get a job. I was hired at The Tennessean for several reasons over more qualified people like Roy Blount, Jr., Kim Chapin and Richard McCord. I was local, a freshman, compared to the juniors and seniors who applied, and would be more likely to stay longer at the newspaper. My only clips were a high school newspaper feature about the stray dogs on campus and a college newspaper interview with Martin Luther King in which he, through my questioning, condemned Vanderbilt student senate opposition to lunch counter protests.

J.P.: Back when I was at The Tennessean, the Nashville Banner existed as a daily rival—and I thought it was awesome. I loved beating them, they loved beating us. Then the paper died. I’ve always wondered how you felt when that happened. I mean, the enemy was vanquished. And yet … did you feel like celebrating or crying?

F.S.: Both. Two newspapers were good for our readers and good for our journalism. Yes, we “won” but we missed the Banner competition terribly. It was altogether different to compete with television, or later, online. Competition brought out the best in us.

J.P.: At The Tennessean, it sort of felt like you were in the shadow of John Seigenthaler, the legendary journalist who served as reporter/editor/publisher. Like, whatever you did could never live up to Seigenthaler standards. Fair? Unfair? And what do you remember about the man?

F.S.: There was no way I could live up to his legacy but also no way I could turn down being his successor. He realized the newspaper had to change when I took over but he never resented it. He and I talked almost every day during my tenure, and I consulted him about changes and issues. He was my boss, my mentor, my golfing partner, my best friend and my second father.

Frank and Natilee on their groovy  wedding day, circa 1974

Frank and Natilee on their groovy wedding day, circa 1974

J.P.: Greatest moment as a journalist? Lowest?

F.S.: Greatest: Being the education editor of The Tennessean during integration of schools.

Lowest: The first time I fired a reporter (for good cause: lying about covering a meeting, but it was still hard).

J.P.: How do you feel about aging, death? Do you worry at all about the eternity of non-existence? Does that give you any sort of peace? Neither? Both?

F.S.: I recently lost Seigenthaler, who was 86, and my mother, who was 94, so I have thought a lot about it, but I do not worry. I want my wife and children to be at peace with my life when I go.

J.P.: You could have fired me on at least four different occasions. Why didn’t you?

F.S.: I wasn’t perfect.

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• Five greatest journalists of your lifetime?: John Seigenthaler, Walter Cronkite, John Seigenthaler, Ben Bradlee, John Seigenthaler.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Lindeman’s Bin 40 Merlot, Tim Meadows, Keith Hernandez, The Doors, crab legs, your first name, Sharon Stone, Kevin Costner, Martina McBride, the number 18, Larry Woody: The Doors, Kevin Costner, Sharon Stone, Larry Woody, Martina McBride, Tim Meadows, Lindeman’s, crab legs, Keith Hernandez, my first name, the number 18, this stupid question.

• Three memories from your wedding?: 1. My wife walking down the aisle with her father; 2. We were married on the porch of my wife’s then 135-year-old home, and during the ceremony, the preacher’s voice rose to a high pitch as a nearby train passage tried to drown out his marriage instructions to us; 3. A group of Tennessean staffers, led by Jerry Thompson and Craven Crowell, plotted to have me arrested as we left for our honeymoon, but we turned the table on them and had them arrested. Wedding pranks were part of the Tennessean cultural history. I helped wreck a few weddings myself.

• Will humanity figure out climate change? Or are we fucked?: Yes. Yes.

• What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?: Tell the truth, using verbs.

 • Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Twice. I was in the Civil Air Patrol in high school. While landing on one of the two crossing strips in Lebanon, another private plane landed in front of me on the cross strip, missing me by about 20 feet at an altitude of 100 feet. I had the right-of-way, but another 20 feet and it wouldn’t have mattered. Then I was on a four-seat plane for the press covering Jim Sasser’s Senate campaign. Taking off from the Dyersburg airport, the plane’s passenger came open and flipped the plane on its right wing. I held on to Banner reporter David Fox’s belt while he leaned outside and closed the door.

• Why the beard?: There were only two razor blades on the 20-patient locked ward where I was undercover. They weren’t very sharp, so I grew the beard. I liked the way it covered up my lack of a chin, so I have kept it ever since.

 • Five reasons one should make Nashville his/her next vacation destination: Friendly people. Diverse entertainment, not just country music. Great food. Walking downtown. Sights such as the Parthenon, the Frist, the arena, and Van Vechten Gallery, plus hot women and hulky men.

 • Odds in your mind that there’s life after death?: Low.

 • One question you would ask Rita Coolidge were she here right now?: Did Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon really steal the piano part of “Layla” from you?

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Tomi Lahren

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So a bunch of months ago, after I stupidly Tweeted that a bunch of female Fox News hosts dressed like hookers, Tomi Lahren ripped me to a shred.

She did so on one of her episodes of “Tomi” on TheBlaze, and it was fierce, merciless and pretty fucking impressive. That’s how Lahren operates: She picks a viewpoint, she zooms in on it and—BAM!—she picks it apart, piece by piece by piece. Do I agree with her takes? Quite literally, never. I mean, seriously, never, ever, ever, ever. But her largely conservative audience seems to love her, and with good reason. If communicating to the masses is a skill, Lahren has a PhD.

Hence, why she’s here today—explaining her dislike of Hillary Clinton, her skepticism over climate change, her love of her kitchen table. One can follow Tomi on Twitter here, and watch episodes of her show here.

Tomi Lahren, I hope your chosen candidates get demolished come November. But I also welcome you to The Land of Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Tomi, I’m thrilled to have you here. Truly thrilled. And I want to start with why we came together: A while back I posted a r-e-a-l-l-y stupid Tweet criticizing some of the women on Fox News for dressing like hookers. It was a shit Tweet—and I’m genuinely furious with myself because A. It was hurtful and wrongheaded; B. Because it misrepresented how I feel. And here is, clearly, how I feel: Women and men are judged by completely different standards in televised media. Obviously there are exceptions, but there’s a ton of more pressure for women to look appealing, dress somewhat sexily, be young. Meanwhile, men can be Chris Berman, Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity, Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless—and, with age, they’re simple deemed “experienced” and “having gravitas.” The double standard drives me insane, and I don’t think it has anything to do with left or right—it’s just men generally running a business. So … does this make me a dick? Do you disagree? Agree? And do you, as a woman in media, feel any of this?

TOMI LAHREN: Agree to a point. I am tired of being told I am a victim. There is a double-standard. Sometimes it works to my advantage, sometimes it doesn’t. My looks might help me snag a few views on my show.  If my appearance draws them in and gets them to listen to my message (I write every single word) then so be it. Television is a visual medium, that’s the way it is. Yes it is more difficult for women when the country seems to favor “young and pretty” over “old and experienced” but there are notable exceptions. Here are a few: Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Oprah, and Greta Van Susteren. I’ve been in TV and guess what—women run it. The largest shareholders may be old, white men but the producers, bookers, and talent recruiters are often women. I don’t want to be the woman that complains my ovaries hold me back. I want to be the woman that says, yeah there is an unfair standard and beating it everyday makes me more of a badass than my male counterparts.

J.P.: One more on the Tweet: So I wrote it. And I’m pretty much a nobody. Yeah, I have a blue check on Twitter. But I’m a guy who writes sports books. That’s it. And yet—the Tweet goes out and—whooooooosh! You’re a [fill in the insults]. Over and over and over. Tomi, I’m not asking as a left-right thing so much as a social media thing: How do you explain this? Like, why do people even care? And the intense anger? Is it real? Is it ever real? Or is it just who social media sorta makes us?

T.L.: Social media is a powerful tool. I know, I found “viral fame” on Facebook and YouTube. Here’s the thing: folks are tired of having so much to say and no place to say it. Twitter gives them the instant gratification of putting the “asshole” in his place. Also, the right-of-center folks are tired of liberals bashing their conservative outlets, especially Fox News. They have some kind of duty to protect their conservative warriors. I have my share of haters but more than that, my loving followers. It’s a blessing and a curse. I had a horrible day at work today, I Instagramed it and my followers made me feel better. That’s something.

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J.P.: You’re 23, you’re from Rapid City, you attended UNLV, you interned for Kristi Noem. But … how did this happen for you, soup to nuts? Was there a moment you thought, “Media!”? A moment you thought, “Conservative!”? In short, what’s your life path from womb to here?

T.L.: I like to talk. I’m pretty good at it. I also love politics. I studied journalism and political science at UNLV. No, not all Las Vegans are strippers.  Long story short, I was looking for an internship out of college. My first choice and now employer, The Blaze, turned me down. Oh well. I called up a new “conservative alternative” network, One America News. They didn’t give me an internship. They gave me a show. I built it from the ground up, and “On Point with Tomi Lahren” was born. I worked at OAN for just over a year when it happened. I went viral with my “Red White & Blue Unfiltered Final Thoughts” after the Chattanooga terrorist attack. Then my inbox exploded and my phone blew up. Now here I am, trying to get a show off the ground at The Blaze in Dallas. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again.

J.P.: I have a complaint about people like you. And Hannity. And Sharpton. And Matthews. And most political pundits. And it’s this: You hold the party you disagree with to ridiculous standards. Or, lemme say it this way: If, say, Paul Ryan had a Benghazi-type thing on his resume, you’d defend him, or at least not go after him the way you go after Hillary. If a sitting Republican president presided over 9.3 million new jobs (and I know you can debate the figure, but that’s not really the point of the question), you and yours would be raving about the economy and GOP policy. The Dixie Chicks speaking out against George W. Bush was treason, but Republicans questioning Barack Obama’s patriotism is fine and dandy. This is NOT about the content of your leanings, Tomi, but that it just seems you and others hold standards to one political viewpoint that you don’t to the other. Tell me why I’m wrong. Or right. Or both.

T.L.: You’re right. It’s called politics. I will say this; Republicans hold each other far more accountable than the Democrats do within their party. Ever heard of a RINO? There is no such thing as “DINO” because the Democrats rarely go after one another. For the record, I don’t dislike President Obama because he’s a Democrat. I dislike him for the way he’s treated our country. He is not the commander-in-chief I trust to lead my loved ones into battle. I don’t dislike Hillary because she’s a Democrat; I dislike Hillary because she’s a liar. I can respectfully disagree with many Democrats. I do it on my show all the time. I truly believe in the honest dialogue. I don’t talk over my guests, cut their mics, or try to make them look stupid. That’s not my game. I believe the better point will prevail. Watch my show, you’ll see.

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

T.L.: The greatest moment of my career was my “viral final thoughts.” Not because of the fame or attention, because I meant every word and it’s nice to know it resonated. The lowest point was when I left One America. I don’t regret my decision but it was hard to walk away from the show I built. It felt like abandoning a child.

J.P.: There’s a phrase I see on Twitter all the time, and it drives me c-r-a-z-y: Libtard. Here’s why: I’m OK with “stupid liberal,” “damn liberal,” “asshole liberal”—seriously, whatever. But Libtard—the merging or liberal and retarded—just seems to cross a pretty nasty line. Thoughts?

T.L.: I don’t like it either and don’t use it. It’s an insult to those with mental handicaps. It makes me laugh but I don’t think it’s appropriate. Yet, Twitter will be Twitter. I much prefer the hash tags I created, #QueenHillary #BO #Obummer and #CuddleTerrorists.

J.P.: I’m fascinated: How do you think the presidential election winds up? I know you want a Republican to win. Totally get it. But who will win? How will it go? [JEFF NOTE: I asked this one before Rubio suspended his campaign]

T.L.: I hope it’s a Hillary-Rubio showdown. Marco Rubio is my candidate because he can win. Enough said. For so long the GOP has been the party of old, rich white men. Well, correct me if I’m wrong but Hillary meets three out of four. As I said in my controversial CPAC speech last year, “If the pantsuit fits, male too?” I don’t understand how the American voter could elect Hillary Clinton in confidence. She may be indicted for goodness sakes! Yet, this is the same electorate that voted for Obama a second time. The reason is low-informed voters. I say it all the time, I ‘d rather our voters be passionately liberal than ignorantly neutral. Don’t vote for Hillary because she’s a woman (barely). That’s not good enough.

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J.P.: So you’re clearly intelligent, informed, etc. I just don’t get why conservatives are so skeptical of climate change. I’ve heard the silly stuff (“Well, first you called in global warming—and now this?”) and the Al Gore jokes (can’t argue—he’s become ridiculous). But the science is, at this point, really strong. Doesn’t it make sense to take all the precautions we can—if nothing else, on the side of safety? Also, as a Christian, don’t you think it’s simply right to keep God’s creation as clean as possible?

T.L.: Here’s the deal Jeff—it’s possible to be a common sense conservationist without blaming the coming apocalypse on SUVs and coal. We need to protect the earth but to say humans are the major cause of “climate change” is not scientifically agreed upon. I believe in innovation and energy alternatives. However, I also believe in jobs. Fracking is God’s gift to American energy independence. Let’s find a way to innovate our extraction process, not blame fossil fuels for every drought or rain cloud. I also don’t trust the EPA to do it. They are in the business of grant dollars and regulating puddles.

J.P.: During one of the GOP debates you Tweeted, “The Second Amendment is not a suggestion! Thank you @marcorubio.” I know where you stand on guns, but I also wanna know what you think we should do about all the gun violence. Do you genuinely believe more armed people=a safer society? Because, statistically at least, more guns in homes=more dead people in homes. Should there be any restrictions? None? 

T.L.: Jeff, when radical Islamic terrorists start abiding by our guns laws then we can talk. Until then, this is garbage. Do you really think some maniac (Christian or Muslim or whatever) is going to be stopped by an inability to buy a gun? I believe in the gun laws we already have. They should be enforced. It just so happens that the FBI often fails. That’s what bureaucracy does. I didn’t own a gun before the San Bernardino attack. I do now. The reality is, wackos and jihadists will find a way. When they do, I’ll be armed. Further restrictions only neuter law-abiding citizens.

J.P.: I don’t get the appeal of Donald Trump to the rural white voter. Do you? If so, can you explain?

T.L.: I get it. Americans are angry. Many feel ignored. Many feel they can’t even speak any longer without being labeled a racist, bigot, homophobe or sexist. Donald Trump says the things many frustrated Americans want to hear. We have a president who seems more concerned with Muslim sensitivity than name, rooting out and eliminating the problem of radical Islamic terror. He won’t even say it. We also have many Americans who are tired of illegal immigrants taking advantage of our pitiful border enforcement. Isn’t it time Americans are owed more in this country than illegal immigrants? Countries cannot survive without borders. I ask this: Do you lock your doors because you hate people outside? No. You lock your doors because you love the people inside and want to protect them. That’s why we have borders. Most Republicans feel this way. Donald Trump says it and says it louder.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): “Orange is the New Black,” Michael Keaton, Carson Palmer, clams, Rush Limbaugh, Tim Duncan, “The Martian,” Janis Joplin, MMA, Toronto, your kitchen table, Jill Biden: My kitchen table, Carson Palmer, “The Martian”, Rush Limbaugh, MMA, Michael Keaton, Tim DuncanJanis Joplin, Toronto, Jill Biden, “Orange is the New Black.”

• Five all-time favorite Democratic political figures: Really, Jeff? LOL! I actually had to Google this because none came to mind. 1) Jim Webb—he’s not actually a Democrat in my opinion; 2) Bill Clinton (when he was moderate); 3) JFK (because he asked people what they could do for the country, not what it could do for them); 4) Howard Dean (because he makes me laugh); 5) Bernie Sanders (because he has no shot at winning but his heart is in the right place)

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes, actually. The day after Christmas my plane from South Dakota back to Dallas was diverted to the lovely town of San Angelo, Texas due to tornadoes. We got off the plane, got back on, flew in a holding pattern. I don’t think we should have been flying. I saw lighting bolts out the window. I did meet some great people on that plane. We ordered pizza at the airport. Not a bad night. At least there was food. Oh, and I’m alive.

• Being serious—Obama calls. He says, “I know we disagree, but I’d love to invite you to the White House for tea with me and Michelle.” A. Do you go? B. Are you cool? C. Could you have fun hanging with a prez you so strongly disagree with?: I would go in a heartbeat. Here’s why, the office of the president is honorable regardless of the name or party ID. Also, I would ask the tough questions. I would be polite but firm. I don’t think someone like me has ever questioned him. I can have a fun conversation with anyone, even BO. Maybe Michelle can unveil what’s so great about turnips—again.

• One question you would ask Scott Stapp were he here right now?: When’s the band getting back together? Awkwardly—because I barely know who he is. I’m 23, remember?

Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Reince Priebus both make me want to punch a wall. How do you explain their status as party leaders?: Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the most polarizing, shrill woman I’ve heard after Queen Hillary Clinton. Reince Priebus might not be perfect but at least he recognizes the problems in the GOP. Schultz just rags on about how racist and sexist she thinks we are. All talk. No substance. She’s got a tough job though. How’d you like to defend the socialist and the liar? Ouch.

• Three memories from your senior prom: 1) My boyfriend was a jerk but he was a jerk for six years, what can I say? Live and learn; 2) It snowed. Yes, in April. Welcome to South Dakota; 3) My boyfriend’s parents actually asked me to step aside so they could photograph him, alone. Real winners.

• How many days in a row can I wear the sleep pants my mother in law bought me for Chanukah before it gets sorta gross?: That would be a two-day maximum on that. Please tell me you don’t wear sleep pants in public. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves. If I have to put on real pants, so do you, bud.

• Explain your name, please: Yes, Tomi, like the boy’s name. No my parents didn’t want a boy. They like unique names. I used to hate it. In fact, I used to tell people it was “Tami” when I was little. Now, I love it. It might be a boy’s name but you’ll never forget it. Drawback, when I go to grab my cup at Starbucks the whole place looks at me like I’ve stolen some dude’s drink. Ugh.

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ToniAnn Guadagnoli

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Back when my daughter Casey was 2 or 3, I saw on Facebook that a former high school classmate named ToniAnn Guadagnoli had recently released a children’s book titled, “Chitter Chatter.”

So, being a fellow survivor of Mahopac’s mean streets, I plunked down my dough and ordered a copy. When it arrived, I expected little. Another day, another person writing something for kids. But then—BAM! “Chitter Chatter” became a staple of the Pearlman household reading. Casey knew all the characters, all the words. To this day, it’s one of the most perused things within our walls.

But here’s the funny thing: ToniAnn is sorta ambivalent to “Chitter Chatter.” She’s OK with the book, but has bigger aspirations. Which is why she’s here today, as the 254th Quaz Q&A. In short, ToniAnn is the struggling, aspiring writer: 2016. She’s talented, she’s smart, she’s endearing, she’s prolific. But while she’s had books and plays purchased, she still seeks the big deal; the huge breakthrough; the moment that will send her on her way.

I, for one, am quite certain it will happen.

For me, the Quaz has always been about people like ToniAnn Guadagnoli—high hopes, giant aspirations, unique life stories that serve us well when they’re told. When she’s not writing, she works as a paraprofessional in the Santa Rose County School District in Pace, Florida. You can read her lovely blog here.

ToniAnn Guadagnoli, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, ToniAnn, so I feel like, in a way, I’ve been spoiled as a writer, because I worked at Sports Illustrated, and that opened a door for books that, truly, I probably didn’t even deserve. And I know how great of a writer you are, and I feel your frustrations when it comes to landing book deals. So I wanna ask, what is it like trying to land a book deal in 2015/2016. What lengths have you gone through? How frustrating is it? What do you blame it all on—if you do?

TONIANN GUADAGNOLI: No matter what year it is, landing a book is torture. You have to have an agent to have a manuscript read, but you can’t get an agent unless you’re a published author. How do you become a published author if you can’t get a manuscript read … and so it goes? I started out as an editorial assistant for an educational publisher. I spent a good part of each day sending out rejection letters to people who submitted their manuscripts to our company. I never thought about how those people would feel when they got their letter in the mail; that is, until I was on the receiving end of those letters. For a while I was blaming karma for all the negative responses. I figured I wouldn’t receive a “yes” until I received back as many rejection letters as I had sent out. It would be a long and painful process.

For the book that I finished writing last year, “Joy Cometh: Getting through Divorce with God’s Help,” I went to a Christian writing conference to pitch it to two publishers. I met with editors from HarperCollins and Waterbrook. Both of them felt that because I didn’t have an established platform that I would have a hard time getting the book published. (This is the type of situation where you lucked out! You were able to establish a name for yourself and then the book deals followed.) One of the editors suggested that I should obtain letters of endorsement from megachurch pastors, Christian counselors, and/or possibly have a foreword written by a name that would be recognized. Unfortunately, a couple of months into my quest for endorsement letters, the editor e-mailed me and said that she decided to pass on the book because a similar book in their inventory wasn’t selling well. I never even had the chance to send her the letters that I collected.

A lot of the difficulty in getting a contract has to do with timing as well. In 2002, I wrote a screenplay about animated cars that come to life when humans aren’t around. One of the cars gets stolen and the other vehicles work together to save the stolen car. I called it “Brittany’s Bug.” (I came up with the idea while driving to Disney. I thought to myself, “They have animated movies about everything coming to life—bugs, animals, toys—but no cars. Hmmph!” ) In 2003, I submitted “Brittany’s Bug” to 56 film production companies and 26 agents. I received one positive response in January of 2004. The company liked the concept and thought it would make a great movie; however, they heard that another production company was working on a similar idea and they couldn’t compete. Two years later, Disney/Pixar came out with Cars. What a bummer.

In 2009, I submitted a screenplay about my ex-husband’s 9/11 experience. I was told that there was “9/11 fatigue” and people did not want to see or hear another 9/11 story. If I had submitted it prior to the fifth anniversary of 9/11, maybe the results would’ve been different.

The most important thing in all of this is that I never give up. I just keep writing and submitting. Also, I know you’re just going to love this one, but I found that as soon as I started giving credit to God for my writing abilities, things started happening for me—like they did with my plays.

I submitted my first stage play, “Groove-a-rella,” to four publishing companies in 2013. One of the companies (Pioneer Publishing) wrote back and said, “We like your story, but we have too many similar plays.” They suggested I send it to two other play publishers. I did what they recommended and that was it! I received my first official publishing contract from Heuer Publishing. Before long I became a card-carrying member of the Dramatists Guild of America.

I may not have that coveted book deal just yet, but I’ll get it one day. At least I know that I’m on the other side of the karma hump—I’m finally starting to get those “yeses.”

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J.P.: You wrote “Chitter Chatter,” which goes down as one of the three or four essential books from my daughter’s young childhood. So … what was the process, soup to nuts? Where did the idea come from? How did you work it out into a story? How long did it take? And what did it feel like, seeing it finally as a finished product?

T.G.: I was a pregnant third grade teacher in 2000. Two days before the last day of school, my doctor told me to stop working. I was ordered to be on complete bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy (four months!) or else I might not carry my baby to full term. I was allowed to get up to go to the bathroom and I could take a shower each day and that was it.

Other than the TV remote, my next best friend was an anti-gravity pen. That pen, along with a black marbled composition notebook, allowed me to write several stories while positioned on the couch (even while I was lying on my back). Two years later, I bought a Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market Guide. I submitted “Chitter Chatter” to 23 different publishing companies who were willing to accept unsolicited manuscripts. I received rejection letters from 20 of them. Most of them sent the standard, “Sorry, this doesn’t fit in with our publishing plan” letter. In February of 2003, I saw a call out for submissions for a Children’s Story Writing Competition that was being sponsored by the American Dream Group (a Pennsylvania-based company that is no longer in business). They offered a $250 cash prize and a contract to illustrate and publish the winning story. I found out in April 2003, that “Chitter Chatter” won.

A woman in Bellingham, Washington, who I’ve only communicated with via emails, was tasked with creating the illustrations and then ADG paid to have the book self-published through Trafford Publishing. Seeing the finished project was very exciting, but as I have told you in the past, I’m not crazy about the book itself. I don’t love the scratchboard style—I envisioned softer illustrations. I also don’t like the way the book feels in my hands. I know that sounds stupid, but I’m just being honest. The experience taught me that there is so much that goes into the marketing aspect of making a successful book. Since I loathe self-promotion, I don’t think that I will ever go the self-publishing route. I must also admit that I don’t consider myself to be a children’s book author. Since this book was not done by a traditional publisher, it was never available in big-named bookstores. So, getting one of my children’s stories published by a traditional publisher is still on my bucket list.

J.P.: You and I both attended Mahopac High School together, and while we were friendly, we ran in very different circles. I love asking people I don’t know this—and I REALLY love asking you this: who were you in high school? What I mean is, I saw you as this confident, popular cheerleader, hanging with the cool kids, life a breeze. But, truly, who were you?

T.G.: I moved to Mahopac from Mt. Vernon, N.Y. just a couple of weeks before our freshman year began. Since my home was still being built, my family of four (along with the dog) lived in our Winnebago on the property next to the shell of what became our home—four months later. It was so embarrassing. My parents moved me away from all of my friends in a city where I could walk everywhere to a piece of property next to a horse farm! (No offense to the Flanagans—I still love my old Mahopac neighbors.)

On our first day of high school, I sat on a piece of gum during homeroom. Later that day, I tripped up the steps trying to get to one of my classes on the second floor and my armful of books went flying all over the place. Then the dreaded lunch period arrived—I got my tray and found a spot to sit down. I ate by myself day after day, for a long time. A few weeks into the year, I tried out for the dance company. Despite my previous 10 years of dancing experience, I didn’t make the cut. My mother still talks about how devastating that was (more for her than for me) and she wanted so badly to intervene. Thankfully she didn’t say anything. Those first few months were really difficult. I was a miserable teenager and I blamed my parents and the move to Mahopac for every bit of my unhappiness.

Things started to get a little better when I joined the track team. (I bet you didn’t know I did that! I couldn’t run to save my life, but I loved the field events! There’s something very empowering about throwing a javelin across a field!) Ultimately the real game changer occurred on a late bus ride home after track practice one night. I met Christine Catalfamo, Joe Mazzei and Lori McGowan’s laugh. Her laugh could turn anyone’s misery to bliss! The girls talked about cheerleading and suggested I try out for the team. Becoming a cheerleader definitely altered everything for me. From that point on, I enjoyed every moment of high school. I made the kind of friends that I could rely on for anything—seven of whom I still communicate with via group text just about every single day.

Yeah, life wasn’t always a breeze. And because of my period of “friendlessness” I made an effort to be as friendly as possible to everybody—no matter who they were. To be honest, I still try to do that, even to this day.

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ToniAnn, second from left, during the Bad Medicine days at Mahopac High.

J.P.: A book you were trying to write concerns being a divorced Catholic parent—and it seems like it’s REALLY hard getting a religious publisher, because of the church’s views on divorce. Does this piss you off, or do you understand? I guess, what I mean is, a church can pretend something doesn’t exist—but it does. In huge numbers. But is my thinking kinda off there? Am I missing something?

T.G.: First, just to clarify, the book is a Bible study for anyone going through divorce (not necessarily Catholics or parents). It is not specific to any one denomination. I feel that Christian denominations do more to divide people of the faith than they do to unite, but that discussion could take up my whole response, so I’ll just leave it at that.

My earlier response explained two of the reasons why publishers have not picked up this book yet: 1) I have no platform and I’m not a known Christian author. 2) A similar book about divorce wasn’t selling well for one of the companies. Like with any publisher, I guess it all boils down to the dollars and cents. They aren’t willing to invest in someone if they aren’t going to get their money’s worth—especially not in today’s market where selling a book is tough stuff.

However, to get to your comment regarding the church’s pretending that divorce is not happening—I agree to a point. Are there churches out there that still shun those who get divorced? Yes, absolutely. Are there churches that refuse to acknowledge that Christians are divorcing at a similar rate as non-Christians? Yup, for sure. However, there are loads of churches that have acknowledged their divorced members and have divorce recovery meetings and offer single parenting resources. With that being said, I wholeheartedly encourage divorced people who feel like they’re getting the shaft from their pastors or church members to consider changing churches, or denominations for that matter. God loves divorced people just like He loves married people and single people. I think we should attend churches that accept us for who we are, no matter what—since that’s what Jesus would’ve done!

J.P.: You and I have had myriad online chats over faith. You’re a very devoutly religious person—and I don’t get it. I mean no disrespect, but there’s so much crap in the world, from 9/11 to Paris, ISIS, cancer, etc. With all the bad, why do you believe in God? And how do you maintain that faith when crap happens?

I’ve already answered this question on my blog, so I’m just going to link to it here in case anyone wants my full response.

Otherwise, in a nutshell, either God exists or God doesn’t exist. I believe He does. Nothing that happens or doesn’t happen has any effect on my belief in Him. It’s faith—I don’t think of it as something I have to maintain. For me, it just is. To use the “crap” that happens in the world to prove that God does not exist is as silly as me using the “crap” that doesn’t happen in the world to prove that He does exist. For example, some say that there can’t be a God because He wouldn’t let 9/11 happen. To that I could say, well there must be a God because nothing bad happened at the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square. Do you get what I’m trying to say? My faith is not tied to the events that happen or don’t happen in the world. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It’s a choice to believe or not to believe—I choose to believe.

J.P.: You wrote a cookbook, Recipes Remembrances: A Chef in Every Family’s Kitchen. Might be a dumb question, but why? And what was the process like?

T.G.: Ten years ago, my church wanted to make a cookbook using its members’ favorite recipes. They thought it would be a nice keepsake and possibly a great fundraiser. I volunteered to take on the project for them. I collected and input all the recipes into a program that was provided by the cookbook publisher (Morris Press). As I was about to place their order, I noticed that they offered a special discounted rate if two cookbooks were ordered at the same time. I come from an Italian family where happiness begins in the kitchen. I quickly reached out to my family members to collect our favorite recipes. I enlisted my grandparents, who are the leading chefs in my family’s kitchen, to cook while I did my best to keep track and measure each of the pinches and handfuls in their most delicious dishes. My original intent was to order 50 copies for my friends and family members. But, at the time, I belonged to the Gulf Coast Author’s Group. Through the group, I was able to sell “Chitter Chatter” at local venues alongside other local authors. So, I figured I’d order a “few” extra copies of the cookbook in case anyone wanted to buy them at the local events. Surprisingly, I ended up selling 500 copies. I made sure to save one for each of my sons. Hopefully the cooking gene has made its way into them.

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J.P.: You’re a single mother with two boys. I’m wondering how you handle social media and technology, when it comes to your kids? Because it’s a burden our parents didn’t have. Is screen time an issue? Do you worry about online bullying, etc?

T.G.: I am the type of parent who is huge on consequences. I don’t make a threat and not follow through with it. So, if the rule is that you must be off of your phone by 9 pm and I find it hidden under your covers at 10:30 pm, then I take it away for at least a week. My boys know what I expect of them and they know the consequences of not following the rules. I am so consistent that they know better than to even try to convince me to change my mind about the consequences when a rule is broken. Without a cell phone, my younger son, Gian (11), doesn’t have as much access as my older son, Nick (15). When Nick first got his phone two years ago, we made an agreement regarding passwords. He would keep his passwords in a sealed envelope in his room. I would check his phone in front of him periodically to make sure that the password was kept updated. As time went on, he knew that he could trust me not to invade his privacy by ripping into the password and I knew that I could trust him to not do what he shouldn’t do on his phone. My younger son, on the other hand, might present more of a challenge in this area. Lol! I’ll let you know how it goes.

As for the online bullying, my boys know that they can tell me anything; but I am not naïve. I know there are things you just don’t tell your mom. The best that I can do is to keep the lines of communication open and honest with them. Strange as it sounds, I think it helps that I wasn’t exactly an angel as a teenager (sorry Mom!). My sons realize that there isn’t too much that shocks me and also, they know their safety is more important to me than anything else.

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

T.G.: Outside of the birth of my sons and witnessing each of their amazing accomplishments, the greatest moment for me was when I became a published playwright. Shortly afterward, I looked up the title online and there was a picture of a man presumably studying lines for his role in a performance of my play. It is so strange to think that there are people who are memorizing the words that I wrote! (By the way, this realization led me to earnestly memorize lines of Scripture. If they could learn my words, I should be able to learn God’s Words.)

Coupled with that is the fact that my two plays have been performed in schools and theaters in 26 states and in three other countries: Canada, Australia, and Indonesia. (I didn’t even know they spoke English in Jakarta!) Too cool! Maybe one day this greatest moment will be replaced by the moment when I am sitting in a movie theater and I see, “Screenplay by ToniAnn Guadagnoli.”

The lowest moments in my life were when I first split from my husband and my family lives six hours away and I had to think about whom I could put down as my emergency contact on a doctor’s form—I had no one. Furthermore, I was devastated at the realization that my kids would be labeled as being from a “broken home.”

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J.P.: Your ex-husband Dom was a US Marshal who went to the World Trade Center shortly after the first plane hit to help rescue survivors. I’ve long felt that while we paid lots of attention to the families of victims (and rightly so), we sorta overlook the impact 9.11 had on responders. This is kind of a huge question, but how would you saw it impacted Dom?

T.G.: Wow, this really is a huge question. To be honest, 9/11 altered the course of our lives in so many ways. Dom was affected physically, mentally and emotionally. He was at the base of the building helping people out when the first Tower fell. He ran down a subway stairwell to seek shelter. He emerged from the stairwell slightly injured from falling as he ran. He went to the other Tower to help people out again. When the second Tower came down, he ran back to his office. He was brought to the hospital along with two other marshals who were injured as well. Dom had a sprained hip; he needed stitches in his palm; and the eye doctor counted over 100 corneal lacerations. The doctors at the hospital said that they weren’t even going to bother doing chest x-rays on the ,arshals because they knew their lungs would be completely clouded by the debris that they inhaled. Dom was “lucky” because his physical injuries were minor compared to many of the other first responders. However, as a result of his corneal lacerations, he had repeated corneal ulcerations for several years afterwards. Debris was accidentally left in his palm under the stitches. Just last year he had surgery to remove the annoying lump from his hand. Last month he had surgery on his sinuses—who knows whether or not it was 9/11 that caused his constant battles with sinus infections?

Unlike his physical injuries, the mental and emotional anguish left by 9/11 won’t ever heal. It was really hard for Dom to return to work in the weeks that followed Sept. 11. He had a difficult time with the smells, the sounds and all the reminders that surrounded him. Though at first he didn’t admit to it, he was suffering from PTSD. There is a feeling among survivors that if you weren’t there, you don’t get it. And I couldn’t agree with them more—I couldn’t possibly claim to understand what they went through and how it made them feel. I knew that when things were bothering Dom, the guys who were there with him were the only ones who could help to make him feel a little better. He wouldn’t go to a therapist because he felt he didn’t need one, but also because he didn’t think anyone who wasn’t there could possibly help him.

A few months after the New Year, Dom requested a transfer to Florida. We moved to Pensacola in July of 2002. It was great for Dom to be away from the city, but unfortunately, the change in scenery didn’t eliminate the lasting effects of 9/11. A few months after we moved here, we attended a Blue Angels (Navy Flight Exhibition) show. Dom went to get us something to drink from a nearby food stand. Just as he turned toward me with drinks in his hands, one of the Blue Angels F/A-18s seemed to come out of nowhere and it screeched right above our heads. I watched Dom’s face turn white. He dropped the drinks and ran to the nearby hangar. I chased after him with our son in the stroller. I found him sitting in a curled up position under the overhang of the building. Dom finally agreed to get help for his PTSD.

He began seeing a local therapist who used a method called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). The therapy was life changing for him. It helped him to gain control over his innate responses to the different 9/11-reminding stimuli. He had to reprogram his gut reactions to hearing fire engines and jets. He was able to smell smoke and not think of the Towers. One of the reasons why the impact was slightly different for Dom than for many of the other first responders is because he was photographed by an Associated Press photographer while carrying a woman (Donna Spera) from the Towers. The impact of just the photo alone was tremendous. The photo led to phone and television interviews every single year since 2001. No matter whether we were living in New York or in Florida, he was asked to talk about his experience over and over and over again. I’m sure in some ways talking about it is therapeutic, but after a certain point, he just wanted to be left alone. However, he does not want people to forget what happened and therefore, he continues to talk about it whenever he’s asked to do so.

Unfortunately, no matter how much time passes, 9/11 will never be far from his mind. It seems like he can’t help but look at the clock right at 9:11. And a night never goes by that the news doesn’t talk of terrorism or a call to 9-1-1. Even TV shows and movies might show the Towers in the background or have scenes that bring reminders. I watched “San Andreas” not too long ago and advised him not to watch it. Watching scenes of crumbling buildings is not easy for the survivors. I guess the most important thing for the rest of us to do is to remember and keep remembering. We mustn’t let a 9/11 go by without honoring them. The rescuers were willing to sacrifice their lives for strangers. The least we can do is remember them for it and support the legislation that will take care of the lasting health effects from that horrific day.

Oh, and one more thing I should add—sometimes people assume Dom received money from all the 9/11 funds raised for victims and rescuers, but the truth is, he never received a dime.

Pearlman and Guadagnoli: The Hall and Oates of pens.

Pearlman and Guadagnoli: The Hall and Oates of Mahopac-produced pen wielders.

J.P.: Where do you write? When do you write? What’s it like for you? Hard? Easy? Smooth? Difficult? Do you love it? Hate it? Both? Neither?

T.G.: I absolutely love to write. I put a desk in my bedroom—that is my happy place. I have so much material in my head waiting to get out. My enemy is time. I never have enough time to write. I have a full-time job at a primary school. After work, I have to do all the things that a homeowner/single mom of two boys must do. I feel like I’m being a neglectful mother if I write while my kids are home; so I usually wait until they are with their dad. Unfortunately that only leaves me with a little bit of writing time every other weekend. Jeff, you have my dream job. Maybe one day I will grow up and get to be a full-time author just like you …

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• Three memories from the senior prom: Sadly I have no significant recollections from this night! How pathetic! I know I went with my high school boyfriend, Chris McCartney (who went to Lakeland). I wore a white dress and we went to the Jersey Shore with friends for a fun weekend afterwards.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Dwight Gooden, Dave & Busters, Long Island University, American Airlines, Holly Robinson Peete, gerbils, Dennis Haysbert, “Bull Durham,” Rodak’s Deli: No. 1 is definitely Dave & Busters (I sent them an e-mail a few months ago explaining why they should consider opening a place in Pensacola. I even forwarded some real estate links with locations that were available for lease. I never heard back from them, but I am holding onto hope!); gerbils (assuming they have a gerbil ball); 2. Rodak’s Deli in Mahopac (Believe it or not, I was only there once!); 3. Holly Robinson Peete (for her 21 Jump Street role); 4. Doc Gooden (only for his no-hitter while in pinstripes—not a fan of his off-the-field antics); 5. Long Island University; 6. “Bull Durham”; 7. Dennis Haysbert; 8. American Airlines.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes! Coincidentally, I was with several of our high school classmates. It was on a flight to the Bahamas for spring break of our senior year. The landing gear wasn’t going down. The pilot was concerned (and so were we!). He circled the airport several times. He tried and tried to get it to work. We could hear the mechanical parts grinding below us. After what seemed like an eternity, the wheels lowered into place and we landed safely. Shortly after our trip, that airline (I think it was called Braniff Airways), went out of business. Yikes!

• One question you would ask Gene Hackman were he here right now: Gene, I quote lines from “The Birdcage,” specifically those spoken by Agador Spartacus quite frequently, and I wasn’t even in the movie! What movie lines, if any, do you find yourself quoting on a regular basis?

• Why didn’t you vote for me when I ran for student council?: Firstly, how do you know that I didn’t vote for you? Secondly, IF I didn’t, it was only because you wrote that darn article for the school newspaper that argued against acknowledging cheerleading as a sport.

• The next president of the United States will be …: Nobody I am particularly excited about.

• Five reasons one should make Pensacola his/her next vacation destination: 1) The beaches are beautiful. The sand is white, soft, and it squeaks when you walk on it. You can choose from the more populated spots to enjoy all the water sporting activities, boating, fishing, boardwalk bars and restaurants, or you can seek out the more secluded areas for quiet reading and sunbathing. The shoreline is vast and it is kept clean. (It was voted No. 1 in the 2015 USA Today’s Best Florida Beaches.)

2) Pensacola is the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.” We are home to the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, and the most amazing National Naval Aviation Museum. We can catch the Blues practicing on many weekday mornings throughout the Spring and Summer (and the museum is free!).

3) Come so that you can discover what we already know—we were here first! Pensacola is rich in history—and it is home to the first European settlement in the United States (1559). (This is a touchy subject when discussed with our friends in St. Augustine, so we’ll just leave it at that. We know the truth and that’s all that matters.)

4) Gallery Night is a blast! On one Friday night of every month, the main street of downtown Pensacola is closed off to cars. There are street performers, outdoor bars, and food trucks. People can roam, shop, eat, drink, and dance. It’s a monthly street party and it is always a lot of fun.

5) I couldn’t pick just one more thing, so No. 5 has two reasons: Parades and Baseball.

Parades in this area of the country (New Orleans, Mobile, Pensacola), are like nowhere else! You walk away from these parades (no matter the occasion—Mardi Gras, Christmas, Five Flags, etc.) weighted down with so much stuff that you need bags to haul away your booty. During these parades we have received (or caught) things like beads, moonpies, cans of soda, ice cream sandwiches, candy, T-shirts, Frisbees, footballs, bouncy light up balls, bracelets, coins, rings, cinnamon buns, stuffed animals, umbrellas, koozies, cups, and even a pair of ladies underwear (thankfully still in the package)! Our parades are considered “family friendly,” so there’s no need to flash any body parts to enjoy the full experience.

Pensacola is home to the very awesome Blue Wahoos baseball team. The Wahoos are the Double-A minor league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The Blue Wahoos stadium is a fantastic place to see a game. The team is partly owned by one of our Pensacola natives, two-time Masters Champion, Bubba Watson. Thus the concessions sell some of Bubba’s co-branded merchandise. Once you’ve got Pensacolians rooting for you, you’ve got fans for life! These people are hard-core sports fans and they just love a good hometown hero.

• What didn’t you know 20 years ago that would have been helpful?: Twenty years ago, I didn’t have a relationship with God like I do now. Seriously though, I wholeheartedly feel that if I had only turned to God and relied on Him then, like I do now, my life may have turned out very differently.

• Five all-time favorite writers? I don’t like to read. There, I said it. Okay?! I majored in English and worked as an editor. Reading always felt like a job to me. I’m also a bit embarrassed because I have the reading tastes of an impressionable teenager. I’ve enjoyed books written by J.K. Rowling, Jane Austen, John Green, J.R. Ward, and James Dashner. I do, however, read the Bible every day. Do I get any points for that?

• Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met—and what do you recall from the interaction?: Top “most famous” encounters (not including those with our famous classmates: NYT bestseller, Jeff Pearlman; Emmy winner, Gina Girolamo; and the Italian Stallion, Frank Zaccheo 😉

• 1. Phyllis Ayers-Allen Rashad (aka Mrs. Claire Huxtable, of the Cosby Show)—In the 80s, I saw Mrs. Ayers-Allen at the local supermarket in the city where we both lived, Mt. Vernon, NY. Two friends and I went up to her and asked her for her autograph. She glared at us for a second and then said, “Fine. But just one.” I guess writing her name three times—once for each of us—was too much to ask.

• 2. Mark Messier—(former NY Rangers hockey star) In 2001, I was outside St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Italy with my family. I spotted Mr. Messier—he was standing there by himself. I went up to him and told him that I was a long-time fan. I asked if I could have my cousin take a picture of us and he said no. He didn’t want his picture taken. Meanie!

• 3. Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas “Paul”)—I introduced myself when I saw him at the San Francisco airport while on a business trip. He was super cool. He posed for pictures with me and my co-workers.

• 4. Joe Gannascoli (The Sopranos “Vito”)—I met him at Vincent’s Clam Bar in Long Island. He is a regular there. He was selling his book and signing autographs. He was a really nice guy.

Sorvino and Gannascoli—it must’ve been the Italian connection.