Jeff Pearlman

  • Twitter Icon
  • Twitter Icon
  • Twitter Icon

Category Archives: QUAZ

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 4.07.41 PM

Roger Craig Smith

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 4.06.15 PM

So if there’s ever been a Quaz who’s perfectly Quaz, it’s Roger Craig Smith.

He’s insanely prolific, but you don’t know him.

You recognize his voice, but not his face.

You’ve heard him speak countless times, but from myriad heads and mouths.

In other words, Smith is one of America’s most accomplished voice actors. He’s been in a gazillion TV shows and movies; has starred as every imaginable superhero; has been in a Megan Fox film without having actually appeared in a Megan Fox film. He also lives near a Trader Joe’s and seems to dig Demi Lovato.

One can visit Roger’s website here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Roger Craig Smith, speak up! You’re the 266th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So I’m gonna jump right in here. One of my absolute all-time favorite animated films is Wreck-It Ralph. You were the voice of “Sonic the Hedgehog.” So I’ve asked tons of actors through the years about preparing for roles and getting into character—but never a voice actor. So, looking back, what was the process. How do you figure out how to be Sonic? His motivations? His linguistic patterns? Etc?

ROGER CRAIG SMITH: Well, prepare for disappointment … I honestly don’t prepare all that much for voice over roles, depending on the situation. Specific accents, or some unique physical characteristic (which could affect the vocal performance) might require certain amounts of prep, but my experience has been preparation can often work against me. If I go into a session with a whole bunch of ideas for all my lines, performance choices loaded and ready to go, it’s not unusual to have those things shot down by a director or other creative individual on the other side of the glass (in the control room). Sonic came about in this manner. I remember auditioning for the character prior to Wreck-It Ralph and working very closely with the creative team from Sega on getting his cadence and voice print down. After landing the role from Sega, it’s slowly evolved into where it is today on Sonic Boom. When we started, they wanted to “age him up a bit,” so we played around with a little different vocal register. With his appearance in the Disney film, Rich Moore (director) sat in the session with me and basically let me do my thing with regard to the voice print for the character, but he had lots of suggestions on delivery and timing. THAT was a tremendous bit of good fortune for me that they decided to incorporate Sonic into a Disney film. Pure luck I happened to be doing the voice for Sega’s games at the time Disney was in production.

When I first started out as a voice actor I was super prepared. Through a decade of doing this on a professional level I’ve learned to have an overall understanding of what’s happening in the script, make some minor choices, but show up ready for anything and be malleable. I don’t have a magical vocal warmup that I practice everyday, or a specific dietary supplement or throat spray—I just try to get as much vocal rest as possible in between sessions, so I’m at my best when they hit record.

J.P.: I usually wait to ask this—but I can’t wait. You’ve had such a unique, lengthy, impressive career as a voice guy. How the hell did this happen?

R.C.S.: Ha! Man, you tell me. Not a day goes by that I don’t find myself in some weird situation in a VO booth where I wanna pinch myself. It’s truly unreal. I’ve had a number of folks ask, “How do I get your career?” I would sometimes answer with suggestions of classes, books, training, etc … Now, I usually respond with, “You won’t.” I wait to see if they bristle at that to follow it up with, “And I won’t have YOURS.” Fact is I went about this in the way that I went about it, but it wasn’t as if I had a road map leading me to voicing Batman, or Sonic, or Captain America—I simply kept trying to get another role, and then on to the next audition. When I started out down in Orange County more than 10 years ago, I went around and knocked on local post-production studio doors and offered up my crappy VO demo CD. From there, a few folks hired me. From there, I learned and got more experience. From there, I took more classes up in LA and had an agency “discover” me. From there, I landed some bigger roles and had more casting directors hear me. From there, I landed more work and eventually had Jeff Pearlman ask me to do a Quaz. I can’t tell everyone to go out and do it the way I did it, because it wouldn’t work for them. Their way of getting started wouldn’t have worked for me. I guess it’s just a matter of trying to take one step up the ladder at a time and not worry too much if ya slip here and there. If I had any idea it would/could have led to this, I’d never have believed it. I’ve worked hard and made sacrifices for it, but I still can’t believe it’s turned into the career that it is.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 4.07.41 PM

J.P.: You spent years as a standup comedian—which seems like pure hell. What drew you into that world? What was the love? The buzz? And—because I always ask this—what was your lowest moment on stage?

R.C.S.: When I was a kid, I loved being a ham. I loved theater and being funny. Loved making people laugh. Also enjoyed mimicry, so started doing voices and making funny sounds at a young age. Being somewhat directionless in life after high school, it was inevitable that folks suggested standup after all my theater and silliness earlier in life. Wasn’t until my mid-20s and during college that it started to be a viable creative outlet. I went to a few open mics with a buddy who was living in LA at the time to see what it was like and found myself thinking, “Hell, I can do better than that.” So, I was introduced to the wonderful world of the LA “bringer room.” Started having my friends show up to watch me perform six minutes at a time and they all had to pay up at the door and suffer the two-drink minimum. It was indeed a pure hell in many ways (mostly for my friends), but I did enjoy the challenge. I liked the ownership of comedy. If I had a great set onstage, then that was my doing. If it sucked, well I sucked and needed to evaluate and try again. The shortness of breath and butterflies before hitting the stage, then (as experience came) the calm that washed over me as I’d take the stage, the whole notion of getting to be someone who had the guts to get up and do that—it all appealed to me. Sadly, the writing on the wall of what life as a comic could be like did not. Babysitting drunk crowds on the road and seeing some of my heroes in the standup world dealing (in the wrong ways) with dark personal issues started to have me second-guessing that career path. Thankfully the voices and characters I was doing in standup opened the doors to people suggesting VO as a career.

I think my lowest moment onstage was just the need for dealing with hecklers who were drunk. Unless someone from the club steps in and removes ‘em, it doesn’t matter how bad you shame them or put them in their place—they’re just a drunk mess and tend to ruin a fun night for everyone. I was never a mean comic, so I didn’t like the idea of slamming people from the stage. So, when ya ended up having to deal with the lowest common denominator in the room it was always a bummer.

J.P.: You’ve narrated a bunch of reality shows, including “Say Yes to the Dress.” No offense whatsoever, because it has zero to do with you. But I loathe reality television. So I wonder, how do you feel about the medium? Besides it being a paycheck?

R.C.S.: How DARE you! Reality is the last bastion of all things good in our culture, dude. Now you’ve offended me and I’ll contact your sponsors to have your livelihood taken away. Dammit I’ve been BULLIED, I tells ya!

The medium is what it is, I suppose. There are some really great shows that are in the reality genre and there are some steaming piles of soulless crap, as well. I’m mostly loathsome of the fact that many of these shows have writers and producers steering the content of the show, which, in my mind, makes them anything BUT reality. I’m actually quite proud of having been a part of Say Yes to the Dress, because I feel they’ve never strayed from focusing on the brides and the stories of the “real” people. They haven’t started focusing on the folks who work at the salon and who they’re dating, who they’ve slept with or betrayed, etc … Most reality shows stray into that BS (*cough* LA Ink) and then it becomes a soap opera with bad, unprofessional actors as they try to play up drama on their REALITY show. Bugs the hell outta me. Usually ends up killing the show, too. Thankfully, SYTTD hasn’t gone away from the focus of what people wanna see on that show, which is women making the biggest dress-decision of their lives and the process involved with that. Yes, it’s a first-world-problem subject matter kinda show and the drama of crinoline vs. silk is the kind of “tough life choice” most folks on this planet would like to have, but it is what it is. Also, it’s kept me humble having voiced superheroes and zombie-killing badasses, but also being a man with knowledge of crinoline vs silk.

J.P.: I wonder how people respond when you say, “I’m a voice actor.” … especially living out here in SoCal. Is it, “That’s awesome!” It it, “Um, what?” Both, neither?

R.C.S.: Ya know, out here, most folks follow it up with, “So, like, then what’s like, your day job and stuff dude?” Being a “working actor” seems a bit of an oxymoron for most folks in LA. And here’s the truth—I’m only as legit as anything you’ve heard of. So, when folks ask me what I do, I usually ask them about how much TV or radio they may listen to. Because the older lady on the flight sitting next to me might have no clue about shows like Regular Show (it has a dang Emmy), Avengers Assemble, Clarence or Say Yes to the Dress … So I can list off some of the higher-profile projects of which I’m a part and she’ll just give me the, “Well that sounds fun, I suppose. What do you do to pay the bills?” If she’s never heard of anything for which I’ve been involved, it’s unimpressive.  Also, folks in LA are so mired in the industry, it’s just like the days of dealing with LA comedy audiences (some of the worst, except for the Ice Room in Pasadena), because they all know someone who does what you do and they’re likely “better at it than you” or “more successful.” Here’s the other response from SoCal: “Yeah? Everyone tells me I should do the same thing. So, can you get me a job or an agent?”

J.P.: You’ve voiced Captain America repeatedly. So what goes into voicing a superhero? Is there an oomph one needs? A certain sound? Projection? And I don’t understand how Captain America hasn’t been shot to death about 5,000 times. I mean, he’s just a strong dude with a shield, no?

R.C.S.: Thank you for pointing out what I’ve asked for so many times—“Can we give Cap a gun every now and then?! Dude is working his tail off with nothing but a Vibranium Frisbee!” For the version of Cap that I’ve been lucky enough to do, Collette Sunderman, our voice director, worked on having his delivery be “fists on hips,” in terms of a posture when we first started collaborating. Think of the classic, comic book-esque, iconic image of a hero standing tall with his fists on his hips. That became our approach to voicing Cap early on in Avengers Assemble on Disney XD (shameless plug). It gave him more of that 1940’s “ahh shucks” delivery to contrast with the other voices on the show. I’m more barrel-chested in my delivery with him, as opposed to when I’m voicing the darker, more brooding Batman in Batman Unlimited (shameless plug coming to DVD Blu-ray later this year), nowhere near as nasally as when I’m voicing Sonic the Hedgehog in Sonic Boom on Cartoon Network and Hulu (shameless plug),  and he sounds nothing at all like my voices for Mouse and Moose in Amazon’s “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” available on Amazon Video (shameless plug). Oh, and Cap’s voice is different than Belson and Percy in Cartoon Network’s Clarence (shameless plug). Or the voices I do for Powerpuff Girls on Cartoon Network (no shame). Transformers: Robots in Disguise on Cartoon Network. Did that, too. Oh, and Ram trucks commercials might have a familiar voice in them, too (I’m disgusting).

J.P.: You did some voice work for “Jennifer’s Body,” a film even the stars sort of hated (but 13-year-old boys absolutely loved). How did you land the gig? What was the experience? And what did you think?

R.C.S.: That was just a straight up, regular audition I got a call for. Showed up, a bunch of us read for the radio DJ voice, I was lucky enough to land the gig and off it went. I think horror is a genre that often comes under fire for lots of reasons—but if you’re taking THAT film seriously, then you’re getting it wrong. I think it was meant to be somewhat ridiculous. I mean, I hope it was, at least. I REALLY enjoyed getting to be a part of that. Really and truly, even when you’re a part of something that isn’t well-received, as long as you can be proud of what you delivered when you were called to do so, it’s a fun job and that’s that. Hell, I voiced a goat that had his way with Forest Whitaker’s leg in Our Family Wedding. I’ll own that! I landed a gig and at the end of the day, that’s the job.

With Jennifer’s Body, I found myself thinking, I’m a very small part of a film that 20 years from now, folks that saw this when they were young might be lampooning it the way we do all things pop culture from our youth. It’s silly, sure, but maybe I’m not the demographic for it. Also, being in a film with Megan Fox wasn’t the worst thing at that time in my life. Not that I met her or anything. I mean wait, yeah, I like totally know her. We’d hang at craft services and share a smoke during production.  She’s okay, I guess. She still texts me from time to time and stuff but I’mall “babe ya gotta let this bird fly, m’kay?” Because voice actors are super glamorous and cool. Ahem.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 4.06.52 PM

J.P.: What’s it like to hear your voice on TV, or in a film? Is it a buzz? Boring by now? Do you remember the first time? What was that like? Where were you? Thoughts?

R.C.S.: It, to this day, does not get old. It’s a dream come true in so many ways. Sure, I don’t fully flip out when I hear a commercial or see a show I’ve voiced these days, but the magic of getting to hear something you’ve done hit the airwaves, a screen or the Internet is always pretty damn cool. It’s that aspect of voice over that does give me the same sorta buzz that standup did. Sure, VO is way more collaborative than standup, but I do get to say, “that’s MY voice—I did THAT.” I dig that part of my job. It’s very gratifying.

Can’t really remember the first time I heard my voice in a production, but I can tell you this—when the opening sequence of Planes begins, I still get goosebumps. That was such a thrill for me, being a part of a Disney feature film. And as a BAD GUY! What a rush! So, I’m glad the excitement over something coming out for the first time is still there. Once it’s gone, I think you’re doing something wrong. I hope I’m lucky enough to be in my sixties and getting excited about landing a gig in VO.

J.P.: I have a weird one here: So you’re 5-foot-5, and I’m repeatedly amazed by the relatively short stature of actors. Most of the ones I’ve met have been in that 5-4 to 5-9 range. Is this just coincidence, or is there something about performing that draws smaller guys?

R.C.S.: Ha! Seriously, I think it has to do with the fact that we gotta find a way of getting attention from the ones we wanna attract in a different way than being a tall, athletic dude. I couldn’t develop an identity as a clutch player from the 3-point line. I wasn’t very good at water polo. I’ve never known the thrill of lifting up another human male to demoralize him in front of his girlfriend the way so many tall men have done to me in my past. So, yeah, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think short dudes are looking for a way to compete for attention/affection and being a performer, being funny, being good at something that takes guts to do—all those things don’t come with a minimum height requirement. That’s likely how a lot of us height-challenged individuals wind up here. And please use “height-challenged” going forward, Jeff. Stop bullying me with your micro aggressions and trigger words. “Smaller guys,” puhlease. I’m offended. I’ll take your livelihood now, thank you.

J.P.: You were at the first table read for “Planes,” and over three years you apparently expected to be replaced by a celebrity for the final film recording. But you never were, and wound up one of only two actors to stick the entire time. How do you explain your survival? And what did it mean to you?

R.C.S.: Wow, it meant EVERYTHING to me. I kept referring to it as a Faberge egg of opportunity that I didn’t want to handle too much. I’d enter every recording session and knock on wood in the waiting room. The production folks would often give me a hard time as we got closer to the premiere about “enjoying it and celebrating” my involvement. But, I just didn’t wanna believe it was real. After the premiere I was able to relax a bit.

There are ZERO guarantees in this industry and every single day there are decisions made that can drastically affect you—and yet you have no say in those decisions. It’s just a fact you need to be okay with if you’re going to do this job. At any moment, you can be replaced. It doesn’t mean anything, it might not be personal, but it happens. So, when you grow up as big a fan of both aviation and Disney as I did—this just seems like it’s too good to be true. And I was happy to be involved in ANY aspect of that film, let alone being the lead antagonist. To go from those animatic sessions, table reads, early voice sessions and over the course of three years…it was just one of those take-a-breath-and-chill gigs where I simply wanted to do the absolute best I could do each time I went in. After they replaced me, I figured, I could at least be proud of making it hard on the celebrity that might come in to match my performance. And then the replacement I was preparing for never happened. I was beside myself. That whole year was a blur for me. I’ll ALWAYS be proud of being a small part of such a neat film. I got to be a Disney baddie, no matter the scale.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 4.07.19 PM


• Rank in order (favorite to least): Anthony Mason, Eazy-E, David Price, Hoda Kotb, Reggie Miller, scallions, Demi Lovato, Ford Explorer, Great Orange Park, “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” the number 12: Scallions, Demi Lovato, the number 12, Easy-E, Mr Holland’s Opus, Hoda Kotb, Anthony Mason, Reggie Miller, Orange County Great Park, David Price, Ford Explorer

• We give Elena Della Donne a season of Division I men’s basketball. What’s her stat line?: 2,000+ pts, 1800+ rbs, 3,000+ blks, 1hb (heart broken, mine)

• Why the “Craig” in “Roger Craig Smith”?: Because “” is a hotel in New York.

• Five reasons one should make Chatsworth, Cal. his/her next vacation destination?: 1. You loathe having options for things to do nearby; 2. Lots of career opportunities in what is now the former porn capitol of the world; 3. You can catch a contact high from the Porter Ranch gas leak; 4. They filmed the original Bad News Bears at Mason Park; 5. Did we mention former porn capitol and Bad New Bears? We did? Um, we’ve got a Trader Joe’s.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Wondering if I’ve lived a full-enough life.

• Absolute best animated film ever made?: Oof. Dang. Lion King.

• What’s the kindest thing someone has ever said to you?: “You sound much taller.”

• One question you would ask Samantha Fox were she here right now?: “Could you help me with my British accent?”

• Best joke you know: Knock knock. Who’s there? Interrupting cow. Interrupti MOOOOO.

• In exactly 26 words, make a case for the Love Boat: New and exciting love! A bartender and a Gopher are expecting you. Stubing’s just the captain’s name, not something you do on the Love Boat, sadly.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 9.45.09 AM

Andrea Kremer

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 9.45.09 AM

Great on-air interviewing is an art.

You don’t often realize such at the time, because the best of the best are so seamless, so smooth, so prepared that it doesn’t appear to be work or craftsmanship. Yet it is. And if you don’t believe me, take a second and watch clunkers like this and this. Bad interviews are like gravel beneath the skin. They’re awkward and clumsy and make one feel as if he/she is watching a flaming cat.

For my money, Andrea Kremer is America’s best TV interviewer. She knows her subjects, she responds to what is said, she doesn’t check off a list of ideas as she’s speaking. Whether it’s sitting down with Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan in a studio or Michael Phelps by the side of a pool. Kremer is—no exaggeration—as good as it gets.

This week in Quaz history, the Real Sports and NFL Network correspondent explains the whys and hows, dos and don’ts of the business. She recalls coming up through the dance ranks, preferring Larry Csonka to Barbie and knowing this was the career for her.

One can follow Andrea on Twitter here, and see her on TV, well, pretty much everywhere.

Andrea Kremer, you are the 265th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Andrea, I’m a huge Real Sports fan. Love it, love it and have loved it for years. But here’s my question, and it’s something I’ve long wondered: How much do the folks we see on air, like yourself, do? What I mean is, off camera, do you report the story, research the story—or is there a staff that does most of the work? Also, how much input do you have in ideas, execution, reporting devices, etc?

ANDREA KREMER: Thanks Jeff, glad you like Real Sports. We’ll get you a Nielsen box! I am biased but I do think it’s the best show on television. To answer your question, it varies by correspondent, producer and story. The production staff is the finest I’ve ever worked with and some producers are more collaborative than others. Some correspondents are fully prepped by their producer and show up and conduct an interview with great aplomb but do little extra research, along the lines of a 60 Minutes on air personality. Then there’s the incomparable David Scott, a former producer who has seamlessly transitioned on air and does both—produces and reports some of the best, most impactful stories the show has ever aired, such as human rights abuses in Qatar, poaching in Africa and most recently, sexual assault accusations against Kevin Johnson.

As for myself, I do many of my own profile bookings such as Bill Parcells, Phil Jackson, Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer, Bill O’Brien, Rex Ryan, Kobe Bryant, as well as for issue oriented stories like Toradol abuse in the NFL. I always do additional reporting and research (I tend toward the OCD side of that!) but ultimately, the beauty of Real Sports is how team oriented it is. They do a “peer review” of stories in progress in which the entire production staff watches a version of the piece and offers feedback and constructive criticism. Believe me, we all want to do the memorable, great stories but I find it to be so collaborative and cooperative not competitive. And I must add one thing because it’s the most stressful (for most of us) part of the job—the in studio cross talk with Bryant Gumbel after the story airs. We never have any idea what he’s going to ask us and if we try to offer suggestions he wants no part of it. He is a child of live television and he watches the stories like any viewer and asks questions based on his own curiosity and he can go anywhere with them. And of course he is never bereft of opinions!

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 10.12.07 AM

J.P.: So as I write this, the NFL is facing a shit storm, RE: concussions and how concerned officials genuinely were. I hear more and more people compare the league to big tobacco—an enormous, all-powerful monolith that cares little for the players. Andrea, you work for the NFL Network and, therefore, work for the NFL. Plus, your title is “chief correspondent, health and safety.” Hence, I ask whether you have reservations working for the network; if there a journalistic complications. And, are people off in their takes of the league as Satan’s spawn?

A.K.: When I joined the network in 2012 as chief correspondent, player health and safety I was told unequivocally that I would have the freedom to tell stories that might raise some eyebrows at 345 Park Avenue but my bosses would have my back as long as we were fair and captured both sides of the issue, a no brainer for me since that is the root of journalism, right? We did some significant stories such as detailing a Pop Warner football team where five young children suffered concussions in one game and ultimately the league was shelved; we told the story of Laurent Robinson, the former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver who sustained four concussions in four months before he was placed on injured reserve for the season and ultimately released by the team. We also delved inside the “Culture of the Lockerroom” examining issues such as homophobia and racism and were widely quoted from the New York Times to CNN.

I feel I’ve never been asked to compromise my journalistic ethics working at NFL Media. In recent years the scope of what I cover for them has broadened (and in fact my “title” is now chief correspondent!!) so I have hosted coaches’ roundtables, news shows at the Super Bowl plus a once-in-a-career opportunity—chronicling Darrelle Revis’ year long comeback from his torn ACL. This was a first, which I’m proud to say turned into A Football Life documentary. Let’s be real, NFL Network is not Real Sports and I feel lucky that I get to work for NFLN as well as HBO in addition to co-hosting the first all female talk show, We Need to Talk on CBSSN, a troika of jobs that provides the creative and journalistic challenges and outlets that I crave.

J.P.: Until 2011 you were a sideline reporter for NBC’s Sunday Night Football. A huge complaint I’ve always had with network sports TV is, with rare exception, women are on the sideline, not in the booth. That it’s almost this forbidden land, reserved for testosterone-stuffed men. Am I right? Wrong? Do you find the roles women are offered in sports TV frustrating, and have things changed? And would you want a booth gig? Did you ever seek that?

A.K.: The role of women in sports television has certainly evolved but the sine wave is on the upswing albeit with tons of room to grown. The fact that we’re seeing Jessica Mendoza as a lead analyst on Sunday Night Baseball is thrilling for me (I did a story for Real Sports some years ago on women’s softball being eliminating from the Olympic program and worked with Jessica and Jennie Finch amongst others and found them to be as smart as they are athletically gifted … Even more reason I’m rooting for Jessica!) Doris Burke can seamlessly slide from the sidelines of the court to center court to call a basketball game and is another true role model for women.

When I was growing up I didn’t have any of these women I could look to and say, “I want to do what she does” (something I hear all the time from young women about myself now!). But I’ll share with you a little-known fact: in 1989 I was completing my fifth year as a producer at NFL Films and my second year in the dual role as on air reporter when I received three job offers: join HBO’s Inside the NFL as a correspondent (I had been producing segments for them at Films); opening ESPN’s Chicago bureau and being their first female reporter or doing play by play for NBC for their “Q game.” That’s right—the visionary then-executive producer Mike Weisman had me working with the legendary broadcast coach, the late Marty Glickman, learning the art of play by play. It was riveting and exciting and when a finally did a demo game I thought to myself, wow I think I can do this … But it was 1989 and my gut told me that the audience would view this as a gimmick and my network career would have a very short shelf life. So I accepted the ESPN job and breathed a sigh of relief when Marty told me, “Kid, you did the right thing,”—especially since Weisman got fired, Terry O’Neil replaced him and he would definitely not have been as supportive of the idea as his predecessor was. An opportunity lost? Who knows? I’m not one to look back or live with regrets plus I think my career is turning out pretty good nonetheless!
Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 9.44.10 AM

J.P.: Um, I just learned you were a dancer before a scribe; performed with the Philadelphia Civic Ballet Company. So, well, how did this happen? Why journalism? When did you realize, “Ah! This is the career for me!”

A.K.: Nice to see you doing your homework! In high school I played three sports as well as danced ballet through college with companies in Philadelphia and New York. I would sit in rehearsals and listen to events on my Walkman (how’s that for dating myself??!!) because I was crazy about sports. I loved ballet and it instilled in me the tremendous discipline that permeates my life to this day. But one must be brutally honest in self scouting as a dancer. I knew how good I was … or not so good. And I always felt that I would give it up when I found something that replaced that passion for me. My first job as a writer did that trick. Plus I must admit that I always felt, Ivy League graduates don’t become ballet dancers … but they certainly become journalists!

J.P.: The Los Angeles Times once called you “the best TV interviewer in the business of covering the NFL.” So, I ask, what’s the key to a strong interview? What are people missing?

A.K.: Well to fully answer your question I guess you’ll have to take my class, “The Art of the Interview” at Boston University’s College of Communication! It’s one of the only courses of its kind in the country that solely teaches interviewing for journalism and I love sharing my experience and knowledge with “the next generation” in an institutionalized way. I primarily teach graduate students and in the four spring semesters that I’ve taught I’ve had amazing students and I’m so proud that many of them have gone on to great jobs to launch their own careers. I also try to impart what being a professional means and the guest speakers I’ve brought in have emphasized that with their actions as well. Last year I also brought in two of my strongest producers, Real Sports’ Jordan Kronick and my former producer at NFLN, Hilary Guy (now a coordinating producer at ESPN!) for a special class I called, “Producing Prowess” to emphasize the myriad jobs that are available in the business, well beyond the on air position that people see and relate to. Bottom line though is that interviewing is communication at its highest level—listen, don’t be afraid of silence, don’t make it about you, be naturally curious, don’t back down and please … ASK a question!

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

A.K.: I truly have been blessed with so many career highlights (with more to come I hope!!) but it would be tough to top a six month period during which I worked two of the most memorable events of our generation: poolside in Beijing as Michael Phelps won eight gold medals and six months later, working the sidelines of the Pittsburgh-Arizona Super Bowl when Santonio Holmes’ tiptoe reception in the end zone sent Steeler Nation into a frenzy. I was also proud to have broken news right before kickoff on Hines Ward having undergone a then-little known procedure called PRP (platelet rich plasma) that allowed him to play despite a serious knee injury he sustained in the AFC championship game two weeks prior.

As for lowest, probably too many gaffes to mention (!!)—but one common denominator is that they were all major learning experiences and as I like to tell my students, we all make plenty of mistakes … just try not to make the same one twice!

Alongside Michael Phelps in London.

Alongside Michael Phelps in London.

J.P.: I read a quote from you, about your childhood, that I just love—”Some girls had Barbie dolls. I had Larry Csonka.” Maybe this is a weird question, but why do you think so few young girls seem to gravitate toward football? I mean, I know there are young girls who do so. But I can count on no hands the number of my daughter’s friends who loves NFL Sundays.

A.K.: Well maybe in California where you live young girls are busy doing other thing on NFL Sundays but I know plenty of my son’s friends back east who love sports, football included. I was crazy about sports, notably football, at a young age and the best thing I had going for me was that my parents didn’t think that was weird but supported my interests … bought me books on football and we went to virtually every Philadelphia Eagles home game, rain, shine, sleet or snow. And no … it wasn’t because I had brothers who liked it. My parents used to joke that I turned them onto football! What I wouldn’t doubt is that many more young girls today probably play sports than watch on TV but there are tremendous benefits to that as well!

J.P.: When Michael Jordan announced his return to basketball, he chose you as the first interviewer. Why? How? And how did you cultivate a relationship with Jordan? And what’s he like, from your dealings?

A.K.: I was based in Chicago for ESPN and covered all six of Jordan’s championships (plus Pistons and more). I spent a lot of time around the Bulls including learning from and watching film with the great, late defensive mastermind, assistant coach Johnny Bach, as well as building relationships with Phil Jackson and many players. But I covered all aspects of Jordan’s journey—from the gambling allegations to him testifying in the Slim Bouler trial in North Carolina to his father’s untimely passing to his baseball sabbatical. He always treated me with respect and yes, that first interview with him upon his return to basketball (as well as breaking the news on SportsCenter that he was coming back!) was a tremendous highlight of my career. On a personal note, in the summer of 1992 I was scheduled to sit down with him for a big pre-Olympic Dream Team interview when my mother died. He was caring and thoughtful when he first saw me upon hearing my news and re scheduled at my convenience, for which I was always appreciative.

J.P.: Totally random question, but I’m at a loss to explain Donald Trump’s political rise. You attended Penn, I attended Delaware. So how to explain it? What am I missing?

A.K.: Hey—Trump went to Wharton. That’s a tough pill to swallow in itself …

J.P.: I was watching local news a few days ago, and there was a report about a traffic death involving a young person, and the reporter went to the house to interview the mother. And I started wondering, “Why is this news?” I mean, it doesn’t affect tons of lives, doesn’t change the world. I don’t mean to sound callous. I mean, it just struck me as really intrusive for this family, and for what? Ratings? Nielsen points? Tell me why I’m wrong, or right.

A.K.: I’d have to see the report and how it was handled … sensationalized or with empathy and concern. Was there a teachable moment to be gleaned from the death … was there a vehicular homicide? Was it just a ratings boost (that’s macabre and terrible, if so). But telling and sharing a story can be cathartic for those who’ve suffered a loss as well as a reminder about the fragility of life.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 9.43.27 AM


• Five greatest 5-foot-5-and-under TV personalities of your lifetime: Exclusively sports? Women? And of course I don’t run around with a tape measure and as I’ve experienced most people don’t know how tall we are…. For me, TV doesn’t add 10 pounds it adds height! First thing I often hear from fan is, I didn’t know you were so, ahem, petite (they usually say short but c’mon, can’t we at least say vertically challenged?). So of the women I know I’d have to say Tracy Wolfson, Suzy Kolber (who probably teeters on 5-5), Lisa Salters. Can I throw Jay Glazer in or would he wrap me in an MMA chokehold if I say he’s around 5-5? And layup …  I have to say myself, right?

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Bart Simpson, Main Line Chronicle, Purim, Dr. Ben Carson, Joe Walsh, turtlenecks, Yinka Dare, Wile E. Coyote, San Antonio, the USFL, women named Laura: If I assess with career chronology in mind…. Have to start of with the Main Line Chronicle where I was sports editor in my first ever job. The USFL since the Philadelphia Stars were the first team I covered (and the first road game I worked—their championship game against the Arizona Wranglers!). Joe Walsh because I love the Eagles, musical not just sports variety. Turtlenecks because while not always fashion forward they are quite utilitarian especially on a frigid sideline. I know several Lauras and they’re all quite nice. San Antonio, as long as I don’t have to interview Gregg Popovich on camera. The late Yinka Dare. Wile E. Coyote. Bart Simpson. Purim (huh?). Dr. Ben (he should stick to patients not politics).

• Three memories from your first-ever date: With my husband: We met at a wedding … Table No. 13 and we would’ve been voted least likely couple to end up married but it was quite a lucky and fortuitous night. One of the only times he’s ever slow danced with me. He has many amazing qualities but channeling Fred Astaire isn’t one of them. Walking me to my room, putting his jacket around my shoulders and pointing out the stars and constellations.

• Fox News calls, will pay $5 million annually for you to co-host a show with Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and a screaming monkey called, “Andrea Kremer, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and a Screaming Monkey.” You in?: Cardinal rule—never do it for the money … blood money isn’t worth it however, the screaming monkey would make more sense than either of my other two co-hosts and we could get cancelled after one show but since that salary is guaranteed I’d be making an investment in my son’s college education so sure, I’ll give it a whirl. I told you I love challenges …

• What’s your ballet scouting report?: Are we talking self scouting? Well at my height I certainly wouldn’t be a candidate for the Balanchine style but my forte was more allegro than adagio. I loved jumps and leaps more so than slower, more methodical movements and steps.

• There’s a homeless man sitting near me as I write this, and he’s screaming to no one, “I met Jimi Hendrix twice!” What are the odds he actually met Jimi Hendrix twice?: Better odds that he was doing or taking was Hendrix was as well.

• This is my all-time favorite song. What do you think?: Well, I know you like Blind Melon and you are entitled to your taste. Nothing tops Springsteen in my book and my favorite is “The Fever.”

• Who are the five most intelligent athletes you’ve ever dealt with?: Yeah, this is loaded because that intimates that others aren’t intelligent. Not going there, sorry. This is the type of thing that comes back to bite you in the Twitterverse.

• On a scale of 1 to 100, how much do you fear/worry about death? Why?:  Much more so for my loved ones, particularly my son, than myself. Pretty self explanatory isn’t it? I try not to expend energy on things I cannot control. I love to take professional risks but am smart and try not to put myself in stupid, dangerous personal situations.

• Would you rather permanently change your TV name to Sandy Drawley III or spend the next two years living in Guam working at Guam’s finest Taco Bell?: Name change if necessary … don’t do fast food!!

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 5.05.11 PM

Molly Peckler

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 5.05.11 PM

If the Quaz were all about conventional guests with conventional stories, it’d be the weekly home of television anchors and authors and lawyers. In other words, it’d be super dull.

But I’ve never wanted that. Hence, the Quaz has welcomed—among others—Miss Black Iowa; my high school classmate fighting MS; an American Nazi; a prostitute; an ex-priest; Styx’ lead singer. On and on and on. It’s supposed to be like a weekly literary fortune cookie. You click on the Quaz, you never know what’s coming.

Enter: Molly Peckler.

I found Molly on Twitter. She’s a self-identified “Cannabis friendly life coach and dating expert.” That sounded quirky and cool and interesting. She starts one of her video lessons with, “Hi, I’m Molly from Highly Devoted. And today we’re gonna talk about two of my absolutely favorite things—sex and Cannabis!” Even more cool and quirky. So I reached out … and here we are. Living the Quaz dream.

One can visit Molly’s website here, and follow here on Twitter here and Instagram here. Molly Peckler, spark one up! You’re the 264th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So you’re the CEO of Highly Devoted Coaching, the—in your words—“first Cannabis Friendly Life Coach and Dating Expert.” Molly, I have no friggin’ idea what that means. Do you connect couples who love getting high? Are you high while connecting couples? Is it just two random interests merged into one, like peanut butter and patio furniture?

MOLLY PECKLER: I work with responsible cannabis consumers who defy the stoner stigma. These people are smart, successful and well respected in their communities, but rather than medicating or recreating with pharmaceuticals or alcohol, they prefer something more natural with less side effects like cannabis. Many mainstream coaches, therapists and matchmakers don’t understand just how beneficial responsible cannabis consumption can be in life or in a relationship, and I provide a safe space without judgment. Sometimes clients will light up during a session, and it allows them to feel more comfortable opening up. I’m a longtime smoker, and it’s one of the reasons my husband and I are so compatible. I respect fellow smokers, and I understand where they’re coming from.

I help my clients build confidence by disrupting self-sabotage, establishing clear goals, and implementing logical strategies to achieve said goals. Many clients I work with are ashamed of their passion for cannabis, and I help them gain confidence by realizing how much cannabis has enhanced their lives. Cannabis is a great analogy for being genuine and accepting yourself for who you are. That’s the definition of confidence.

In terms of dating, I help clients gain closure and learn lessons from past relationships, identify all the components necessary in an ideal partner, and then create online and offline dating strategies to identify compatible partners. When you’re a cannabis consumer, dating is way more complex because of the stigma and judgement you can face when meeting new people. I work to overhaul online dating profile or identify groups and organizations to become involved with offline that will expose clients to the ideal cannabis friendly partner. Once you meet someone new, it can be tricky finding the right way to bring up cannabis, and I’ve developed strategies for successfully walking that tightrope as well.

I have an ability to disarm pretty much anyone, and that allows me to do what I love, which is to help others build confidence and achieve their goals so they can truly enjoy their lives.

J.P.: So I’m 44, and I met my wife at a wedding. And—I hate to say this, because it sounds sorta dickish—but I’m pretty happy I didn’t meet her online, or via a dating service, because now I don’t have to say, “Um,” when people ask the backstory. Two things: Do people not meet at weddings, bars any longer? And B. Do you think any stigma remains to meeting online or via dating service?

M.P.: Yeah, it’s a little dickish, but I’ll forgive you! With all of the swipe apps and dating sites out there, it’s a lot easier to meet someone on online today. Swipe apps are great for hookups, but if you’re looking for a relationship, you’ll probably have better luck on a dating site like Match where you can create a detailed profile and search for a like-minded partner utilizing their preferences. I don’t think there’s any stigma left in online dating because it’s such a huge part of our culture.

When you meet someone in person, you don’t know if they’re interested in a relationship or what type of partner they’re looking for. It’s not always something you can ask about from the first conversation. You’re also limited to the people you actually meet, so online dating gives you way more options. Dating is a numbers game after all. If you end up with an ideal partner, who gives a fuck how you met?

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 10.10.58 AM

J.P.: I grew up the son of a substance abuse specialist, and my mom used to scare the shit out of me with “Pot is a gateway drug” lectures. How did you get into Cannabis? What is it about it that does it for you? And was my mom 100 percent wrong? Is the gateway drug thing just pure nonsense?

M.P.: Unfortunately your mom was completely wrong, because the gateway drug talking point came from biased studies that mistook correlation for causation. Alcohol is by far the most powerful gateway drug, and when it comes to hard drugs like heroin, pharmaceutical opiates are the leading cause of overdoses. Cannabis has recently been found to help opiate addicts recover, and in states where medical cannabis has been legalized, opiate overdoses have been reduced on average by 25 percent. Cannabis has hundreds of medical benefits,especially when it comes to killing cancer cells, stopping seizures, reducing PTSD and so many others. The compassionate choice is full adult-use legalization. The drug war is an excuse to disenfranchise minorities, and now the United States has the highest incarcerated population in the world.

I’ve been a regular smoker for over a decade, and I love how cannabis gives me perspective, helps me focus, reduces stress and anxiety, and enhances connections with people I care about. I have a small appetite and it allows me to enjoy the food that I love. When I’m in pain, or recovering from a tough workout, it hits the spot better than any pharmaceutical. It helps me sleep without feeling groggy or hungover in the morning, and it makes experiences more entertaining and enjoyable. It’s also an excellent addition to my sex life.

J.P.: Under your experience you have “Utilized scientific research on developing confidence” listed. So, Molly, what can you tell me about self-confidence? How does one develop it? And what if a person just doesn’t have confidence? Like, he/she simply doesn’t believe in himself/herself? Do you need to fake confidence? Can you? Can it be developed?

M.P.: We’re all born with the ability to be confident, but we let toxic thought patterns and other obstacles like fear get in the way. The most powerful tool to gaining confidence is having a healthy relationship with your thoughts and emotions. You can achieve that in many ways, but I’ve found mindfulness meditation to be the most efficient method.If you’re present in the moment and you’re not worried about the past or the future, confidence automatically manifests.

Anxiety and lack of direction are toxic to confidence, so I help clients get everything down on paper instead of letting the constant ping pong game in their head stress them out. Once we know what we’re looking at, we prioritize and start checking off goals one at a time. That incremental progress builds quickly, and with that comes confidence. I’ve modeled this after the scrum methodology for project development. Once you know you’re in control, you can make your life what you want it to be, without letting fear get in the way.

J.P.: I’m gonna say something sorta horrible, but it’s honest: When I see an obese person in a beautiful dress or tuxedo, I see an obese person. I mean, THAT’S what I see. The weight. It’s not nice, it’s not cool—but I think it’s pretty common for most people. So my question, Molly, is can love truly be blind? Can I come to fall in love with a 500-pound woman with an amazing personality? Can a racist white woman come to love an African-American man? Or are we these surface beings with limited ranges of emotional compassion and extensions?

M.P.: When you’re trying to find the ideal partner, you’re really looking for two things; a best friend who you also want to have sex with. Love is not blind, and you have to be attracted to your partner if you want the relationship to last. Instead of looking for specific physical requirements, look for a benchmark of attractiveness. Are they attractive enough for you to be interested? Keep in mind that attraction isn’t limited to physical characteristics. You could meet a 6 and after getting to know her, she’s now a 9 in your eyes. On the flip side, you come across a 10 who also happens to be a huge asshole, and she’ll look more like a 3.

The best friend part of the equation breaks down to shared values, passions, and sensibilities. Do you care about the same things, do you respect this person, do you want the same things out of life, do you laugh at the same things? Think of what’s most important to you and look for someone who’s on the same page.

The idea of a single soulmate is total bullshit. There are plenty of people out there who would be great for you. Now you just need to go out there and find them. If you want some help, that’s why I’m here.

J.P.: You have a video that begins with, “Hi, I’m Molly from Highly Devoted. And today we’re gonna talk about two of my absolutely favorite things—sex and Cannabis. If you’ve ever had sex chances are you’ve done it with alcohol in your system. Sober sex is great, but have you ever thought about bringing marijuana into the bedroom.” Molly, I sat cracking up watching this, because I pictured your Midwestern parents, sitting in their home, the smell of roasted chicken coming from the kitchen, DVR set to record “The Good Wife,”—saying, “Honey, let’s see what Molly’s put on her site …” So, seriously, how do your folks feel about this whole thing? Are there awkward Peckler family gatherings?

M.P.: Ha! For the most part, that’s a pretty solid representation of my parents. Luckily they went to college in the 60’s so the cannabis stuff doesn’t bother them too much. I’ve been with my husband for almost 11 years and we’ve been married for five, so the sex stuff isn’t really an issue, since my parents are hungry for grandchildren.

The fact that I’m an entrepreneur is more of a sticking point than my unique niche. I’m a nice Jewish girl from the Midwest, so my mom wants me to move to the suburbs and have a baby, like yesterday. My dad loves my entrepreneurial spirit and the fact that I’ve helped so many people, so he’s been helpful in getting my mom onboard.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.16.42 AM

J.P.: How did this happen for you? I know you’re an Illinois graduate, I know you’ve enjoyed burritos as big as your head? But what’s been your path, birth to here?

I’ve always had the ability to make people comfortable and open up to me, and my curiosity for why people do the things they do lead me to get a degree in Psychology. Four years ago I became an executive matchmaker, and that’s when I began to see how important it was to coach my clients to confidence.

I’m a woman who gets men. I know how they think and communicate, and I can help both men and women bridge the gap between the sexes. I had a lot of success and changed many lives, but I had an opportunity to jump over to a cannabis consulting firm and I had to take it. It’s always been a passion, and I’ve been personally touched by the importance of medical cannabis through a family member. I fell in love with the cannabis industry and decided to stake my own claim by utilizing my unique talents.

There is huge market of sophisticated cannabis consumers who are being ignored by the mainstream, and that group will keep growing because of changing laws, regulations and scientific research. I decided I had to combine my passions of helping people build confidence and find love, and disrupting the stigma of cannabis, and create Highly Devoted Coaching. My goal is to have Highly Devoted become a household name in the cannabis industry, and the coaching services are just the beginning.

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

M.P.: Greatest moment is definitely skydiving in Kauai on my honeymoon. It had always been a dream, and my husband completely surprised me. It was exhilarating and relaxing at the same time. I’m agnostic, but it was the most spiritual moment of my life.

Lowest is harder for me. My older brother Scott died last month, and that day was definitely my worst. He had always battled demons, and in the end, they overtook him. We had an incredibly special bond, and he shaped so many of my passions and values. There’s no chance in hell I would have created Highly Devoted if he didn’t help me embrace cannabis culture or take pleasure in bucking authority. My brother let his fears and insecurities take control of his decisions, and I’m now dedicated more than ever to help people move past their fears and make the most of the time they have.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.21.44 AM

J.P.: What are the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to dating? And what’s the biggest mistake you made in dating?

M.P.: They don’t give enough thought to the type of person they’re looking for. When you know what you want and you establish boundaries and deal breakers, it’s much easier to find the right partner. Once you realize someone isn’t a fit, onto the next. Too many people waste years in a relationship that doesn’t  make them happy.

Another huge issue is settling, and that always relates back to a lack of confidence. If you think “this is the best I can get” or “I don’t like myself, so why would a great partner like me?”, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we’re not confident, we make decisions for the wrong reasons, and the decisions we make are the only things in life we’re completely in control of.

I see so many people jump into relationships with people they know aren’t a good fit because everyone else they know is pairing off, getting married and having babies. Do what makes you happy, not just what other people think you should be doing.

Finally, don’t get emotionally involved until you’ve done your due diligence, otherwise your life will be filled with emotional roller coasters . Your initial focus should be learning whether or not they are looking for the same type of relationship, they have integrity, they’re emotionally available, and you’re on the same page when it comes major life events.

My biggest dating mistake was not communicating when I was unhappy about something and then having it build and build until I exploded at my now husband. He helped me to open up my lines of communication and nip problems in the bud before resentment took over.

J.P.: A few months ago I read an article about Ted Cruz, and how he once sponsored a bill to make the sale of vibrators and such illegal. Then his college roommate chimed in with a Tweet noting that Ted used to masturbate all the time at Harvard. Why do you think so many conservative people go out of their way to demonize sex, drugs, behavior they deem “immoral”?

M.P.: Conservatives are worried about living up to other people’s completely unrealistic expectations. They demonize others to make themselves feel better, but it never really works because they’re always living a lie. We’re human, and we’re hardwired to want sex, and we use certain substances to blow off steam. That’s it, and as long as it doesn’t hurt people, you shouldn’t give a fuck. Conservatives never want to accept reality, and they ruin many lives in the process. This is the perfect example of fear and insecurity shaping our choices and actions.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.22.50 AM


• Five keys to great sex: Self-confidence, trust, emotional connection, generosity, an open mind.

• The next president of the United States will be?: Hillary, although I would prefer Bernie. As long as it’s not Trump, I’m satisfied.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): iPhone 6, Carson Wentz, raspberry scones, New Edition, bird feeders, Queen Elizabeth, Chris Brown, “The Fault in Our Stars,” HBO, Nolan Ryan, crying, your left ear: HBO, my left ear, Raspberry Scones, iPhone 6 (don’t think less of me), crying, Nolan Ryan, bird feeders, Queen Elizabeth, New Edition, The Fault in Our Stars, Carson Wentz, Chris Brown.

You’re married. How’d you meet your husband?: We lived in the same apartment building our senior year in college and fell in love over a bowl of weed. While falling in love over said bowl, we realized we were in the same first grade class, but he moved away to Minnesota in the middle of the school year. He was the first crush I can ever remember, so I’ve always had excellent taste.

• Death scares the shit out of me. You? Why or why not?: It really doesn’t. I’m married to my best friend, I’m following my passion and helping people find happiness around the world, and I recently moved from from the endless winter of Chicago to Southern California. I love my life, and I don’t have any major regrets. No matter when I go, I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun and I’ll have left a positive legacy. I just hope my husband and I kick the bucket around the same time.

• Four reasons one should make Chicago his/her next vacation destination: You’re visiting  mid July-mid September. Otherwise, be prepared for miserable weather. 1. The food is excellent, encompassing cheap eats like deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s to a 20-course tasting menu at Alinea. Bring your appetite and don’t even think about counting calories. 2. The sports. Unfortunately the Hawks got eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, but the Cubs and White Sox are two of the best teams in baseball. Could 2016 finally be the year the Cubs break the curse? 3. The Midwestern hospitality. For the most part, people are really warm and down to earth. 4. It’s gorgeous. Lake Michigan and the beach are beautiful, and the architecture is stunning. Take it all in on an architectural boat tour on the Chicago River.

• I never liked the Yankees adding Ken Griffey, Sr. and Dave Collins to replace Reggie Jackson. You?: Absolutely not. Despite Reggie’s constant feud with Billy Martin, he was and will always be Mr October.

• Three all-time favorite books: When I was growing up, The Catcher in the Rye really did it for me, but my favorite always tends to be what I’m currently reading. Right now, that’s Presence, by Amy Cuddy. I was also hugely inspired by Michael Neill’s Supercoach.

• Stinky farting by a guy during sex—understandable or an automatic ending to the evening?: Farts are funny, and I love laughing during sex. Not a deal breaker at all, but I’m a pretty weird chick.

• In exactly 16 words, make a case for orange pens: According to Color Psychology, the color orange conveys cheerful confidence. Highlight your confidence with orange pens.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 8.29.52 PM

Jon Moscow

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 8.29.52 PM

Today’s Q&A is why—263 and five years in—I still love doing the Quaz.

Jon Moscow is not famous. He is not a household name. There have been precious few stories written of his plight; no mentions in history books; in chronicles of higher education; in Bob Dylan songs. Put different, upon first glance he is merely a guy.

And yet, that’s a false impression. Along with being the father of David Moscow, an actor and Quaz No 224, Jon Moscow is a man who has devoted much of his life to fighting sociological injustices. Back in the 1960s and ’70s he was heavily involved with the Black Panther Party, opening a health clinic in Portland to provide services for overlooked African-Americans. He has been arrested multiple times, including during a 1999 protest after Amadou Diallo was shot by the New York City Police Department. He burned his draft card in Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic Convention, compares Donald Trump’s rise to that of Hitler and Mussolini and believes climate change is worth screaming about.

In short, he’s a guy who gives a shit—and does something about it.

Jon Moscow, fight on. You’re Quaz No. 263 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Jon, in the late 1960s/early 1970s you were heavily involved with the Black Panther Party in Portland, ultimately opening up the Fred Hampton Memorial People’s Health Clinic to provide medical services to the region’s underserved African-American population. You also protested the Vietnam War, were arrested, etc … etc. I’ve never asked this of someone with such experiences, but I wonder: When you look around today, and you see the earth melting, you see millions of people staring down at glowing screens, seemingly concerned more about Kim Kardashian’s bare ass than, say, Trump-Clinton, do you ever feel like the efforts of you and yours were for naught?

JON MOSCOW: No. I think of the amazing things we—a multifarious, multi-faceted we—accomplished (and are continuing to accomplish). I love time-travel stories—Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book and Blackout/All Clear—but when I think of going back to the 1950s or early 60s I get claustrophobic. Racial segregation of everything from bathrooms to marriage; lynchings; male/female help wanted columns; homophobia so pervasive that the word didn’t exist; wife beating and pinching women’s butts topics for TV jokes. Child abuse invisible; vegetarians weird, and healthy food practically unavailable. Cigarette smoke everywhere. No environmental movement. The list goes on.

Everyone knows these things, but think of (or remember) living with them as the givens of daily life. I tried to watch Mad Men but couldn’t make it through the first episode. Of course, it’s only the time-traveler who sees it this way; when it’s happening, it’s just the way things are.

And that’s without mentioning the Vietnam War.

We changed or helped change all these things. We didn’t end the Vietnam War; the Vietnamese did. But we helped. And we changed ourselves at the same time, as day-to-day time travelers.

So there’s no way that any of it has been for naught. The idea of naught doesn’t even make any sense.

As far as comparing then and now, things are dialectical. When you solve one problem, the solution (or partial resolution) always generates other problems that then have to be confronted. I don’t think it’s working toward some definite end and, in the bargain, things rarely work out the way you think they will. We are always in “the best of times and the worst of times.” You just have to “keep on keepin’ on” to improve things and to stave off the worst. And I was so struck by Rabbi Michael Lerner’s eulogy at Muhammed Ali’s funeral, where he said, “the way to honor Muhammed Ali is to be Muhammed Ali.” You do what you need to do for your sense of integrity even when there is a price.

And lots of people are always going to be more concerned with the celebrity of the month, or, more importantly, with making the rent and feeding the kids so they don’t have time or energy to do other things.

Harrier days ...

Harrier days …

J.P.: Through the years the very words, “Black Panthers” have come to mean, among certain white (and Fox News-loving) circles, violence, disobedience, wrongheadedness, viciousness, racism, etc. But you were not only in Portland when the local chapter began—you were a (white) part of it. What has history misunderstood about the Black Panthers? What do people misunderstand?

J.M.: I wasn’t actually a member of the Portland chapter of the Black Panther Party. I was in Health-RAP (Health Research and Action Project), a white group that was an ally of the Panthers. Health-RAP worked to make health care more accessible. At the time, the only public medical clinic in Portland was at the county hospital, up Sam Jackson Hill, which was hard to get to, and people had to be there at 8 am and sometimes wait all day to be seen. We successfully kept Buckman Clinic, Portland’s only public dental clinic, open. We also tried to get the non-profit hospitals such as Emanuel and Good Samaritan to serve the communities around them and to stop expanding and expanding at their expense. We were influenced a lot by Health-PAC, a really cool policy center with a national focus.

We collaborated with the Panthers to help start the Fred Hampton People’s Free Health Clinic and the Malcolm X People’s Free Dental Clinic. We named the health clinic for Fred Hampton the month after he was murdered in his sleep by the Chicago police. I was the treasurer of the clinics. The clinics were in the black community, Albina, but we welcomed everyone. The county social service offices even referred people, black and white, to us because there weren’t other places to refer them. It definitely was a trip to think of the welfare office referring people to a clinic with Emory’s Panther posters on the walls. When some of the volunteer doctors asked why we had the posters up, we pointed out that Good Samaritan had crosses on its walls and nobody asked why they had them.

Like Panther chapters elsewhere, the Panthers in Portland also started a free breakfast program for children. The government started school breakfast programs because it was embarrassing to have the Panthers being the only people providing them. In Portland, kids continued to come to the Panther breakfast program even after the schools had them because the food was better and the atmosphere was loving.

There’ve been a lot of lies and distortions about the Panthers because they were black revolutionaries. There are lies about anybody who tries to make change, especially anyone who challenges racism because of how deep it is in American history and society. To treat the Panthers with the respect they deserve is to have to look at the system they were fighting and to take responsibility for it. And that is scary. It’s scary as a country and it’s scary in Portland.

Portland’s history—and Oregon’s history—as far as black people is concerned, is ugly. Oregon banned black people when it was founded. It had a Klan governor in the 1920s. Oregon Public Broadcasting did a documentary (Lift Ev’ry Voice) that shows a lot of the history, including talking about the Panthers, and Ron Herndon, and other black activists and movements in Portland. There’s a really good book that just came out. It’s The Portland Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City, by Lucas N. N. Burke and Judson L. Jeffries. It puts the Panthers in the context of Portland’s history and gives them the credit they deserve. If you want to know what the Panthers stood for, read their 10-point platform. The Panther concept of “revolutionary intercommunalism” was a very exciting way of approaching how people can build their own communities, but work collaboratively with other communities—it is the antithesis of racism or of “narrow nationalism,” which the Panthers opposed.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 5.16.14 PM

J.P.: You were a kid from Long Island, living your young life. You could have surely ended up like your peers. Who, I imagine, largely stayed in the bubble, attended college, got jobs at banks, law firms, schools, etc. But when you were 13 you read a story in Newsday about a group of people arrested while demonstrating against school segregation, then joined the Congress of Racial Equality. What was it about you that stirred the empathy? The emotion? The desire to help those of different races at a time when many stayed within their ethnic lane?

J.M.: It just seemed like the thing to do. First of all, it was 1962 and a lot of other teenagers were going through the same thing. Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin’” came out in 1964, but they were changin’ in 1962 as well. In retrospect, I can think of a number of things. An important one, in both positive and negative ways, was my parents. My parents had been socialists in the ‘30s and went to rallies to support the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War. My father was a founder of the Newspaper Guild in New York City and was active trying to get the U.S. to fight the Nazis. He argued his way into the army in World War II at age 38 because he wanted to fight, even though he could easily have been exempted. My parents told me that the only way Jews would ever be safe was if everyone was and the only Jewish holiday we really celebrated was Passover, as a holiday of liberation. We had Paul Robeson records, including “Songs of Free Men,” with an album jacket of a dagger slashing a Nazi snake. I read Emma Goldman’s Living My Life when I was about 11 or 12 because it was on a lower shelf of my parents’ library and I was fascinated by the idea that it was a first edition.

On the other hand, my father, whom I admired in many ways, had no idea of how to deal with children, which he apologized to me for many years later. He expected obedience from my sister and me and didn’t know what to do when he didn’t get it. Today, I would be considered a physically abused child. At the time, there was no such concept. When I tried calling the police once when I was about 9 or 10, they told me, “Son, whatever your father does is right.” When my sister’s older boyfriend took us to our family doctor’s office in the middle of the night so he could look to see if my finger was broken, the doctor never asked any questions. I decided early that family is the root of all evils and that I would never get married, much less have kids. Of course, I’ve now been very happily married to Pat for 42 years and have two sons—David and Lev—who I’m very close to, but it took a long time and a lot of changes to get there. The experience with the police made me cynical about the police and official versions of reality. I think all these things helped contribute to me becoming a radical and an activist.

J.P.: How do you explain the rise of Donald Trump? How does it make you feel?

J.M.: A lot of people wonder how Hitler and Mussolini and lots of other demagogues get into power. Sinclair Lewis wrote It Can’t Happen Here in the 1930’s to show that it could. Trump’s rise shows how it could happen now. Trump’s rise is scary. Also scary is that the Republican establishment’s disagreements with him were that he wasn’t right-wing enough. They were torn between crawling into his camp and keeping their particular set of super-right wing tax cuts for the wealthy, gut-social security, put-women’s- and-gay-and- trans people’s-bodies back-under-their-control, die-quickly-if-you-get-sick policies intact.

Now it looks like you’re getting a convergence. They’ve mostly crawled in, while keeping their policies intact. So you’ve got North Carolina doubling down on the imaginary dangers of trans folks in bathrooms. Even after Orlando, you have Rick Scott refusing to say “LGBT.” And the Republican leaders who are ambivalent about Trump at this point are mostly simply trying to decide if he’s become too toxic—too out front in what they’ve been doing through their racist dog-whistles all these years– for them to keep their seats.

What’s also scary and often overlooked is that while Trump is getting a lot of the attention, a lot of the things he’s advocating are already in place with very little attention. For example, just in the last month the New York Police Department restated in Federal court in the Handschu Guidelines Fair Hearing their intention to keep doing broad, suspicion-less surveillance of Muslim communities if they want to. And in a Freedom of Information Law case in New York State, an appeals court ruled that the NYPD could refuse to either confirm or deny whether they had records on someone having been under surveillance—rejecting the idea that, at least, they should have to make a case to a judge in the judge’s chambers.

With Pat Sterner.

With Pat Sterner.

J.P.: You turned 18 in 1966, you burned your draft card in Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic Convention, then sent the ashes to the draft board. So … what happened next? And why were you so bothered by Vietnam?

J.M.: I was lucky. Nothing more happened with my draft board, Selective Service Board #6, the most reactionary board in the country, when I sent the ashes. I had applied for conscientious objector status on grounds that I was a pacifist but that I wouldn’t go even if I weren’t because the war was immoral, but they rejected that. I refused to apply for a student deferment, so I was 1-A. Because I failed my physical, I didn’t have to refuse induction, and stayed out of jail.

How could anyone not be “bothered” or more accurately, horrified, by what the U.S. government was doing in Vietnam? As Martin Luther King said in his Riverside Church speech in 1967, our government was the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” They can name a holiday for him and put him on the back of $10 bills, but they have to hope that few people today read that speech. Unfortunately, it’s as applicable today as it was then.

J.P.: You were arrested. I’ve never been arrested. What happened? What was it like? Even though I’m guessing you expected it to happen, were you terrified? Satisfied? And what do you remember of your time in jail?

J.M.: I’ve been arrested a number of times, sometimes planned and sometimes unplanned. Unlike friends who were in Parchman jail in Mississippi during the Freedom Rides or in federal prison for draft resistance, my longest stay has been overnight. The one with the best outcome was when I was arrested during the Fry Roofing strike in the summer of 1969 in Portland. The leftist political community and the beginnings of the environmental movement joined in supporting the workers at a factory that combined bad labor practices with terrible pollution. We had a big demonstration that caught the police off guard—surprisingly, because we’d put flyers all over the city. So people stopped scabs from going in and tore down the company fence. Wally Priestley, a distinctly atypical state legislator, drove his car onto the assembly line and shut it down. The next day there weren’t many of us and there were lots of cops. The company had gotten an injunction against blocking the entrance and a police lieutenant delivered it to the union trailer. But we weren’t part of the union, so I shouted, “I haven’t even seen your fucking injunction.” They arrested me for disorderly conduct—this was 6:30 am in the industrial area of Portland, so I’m sure everyone was shocked at hearing the f-word. The arresting cop punched me in the stomach in the cop car to let me know what he would do if “you were my kid.”

Anyway, I had to find witnesses and someone said, “The Sterner girls were there.” So, I met Pat and her sister, Arla. Pat had seen the arrest and said she’d testify but she needed a subpoena to get off work. It turns out she thought I was cute.

The cop never showed up in court, but I still have the subpoena over my desk. It makes a good story when people ask how Pat and I met.

Another time I got arrested on a picket line going to help a friend who was legally blind who had gotten in a fight with someone who was harassing the picket line. Of course, I discovered later that my friend had actually started that fight …

The most recent time was when Amadou Diallo was shot by the NYPD in 1999. That one was a planned arrest with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, blocking the entrance to One Police Plaza. We organized something like 125 Jews, including 15 rabbis, to get arrested, on one day in a series of planned arrests by different groups. It made the front page of the Times because it signaled to Mayor Giuliani that he had lost that battle.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 5.16.01 PM

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

J.M.: Don’t know yet. Ask me in 30 years if I’m still around. Actually, I don’t think so much about the “greatest” moment as just feeling OK that Pat and I have been able to live our lives the way we’ve wanted to. We were really determined that we wouldn’t stop being activists and taking necessary risks when we had kids and had to worry about schools, and rent or mortgages. And we’ve been able to integrate our politics into our lives on an ongoing basis. I am really happy that my kids turned out to be mensches. I’ve gotten to work with both of them on work-related projects. David and I have worked for almost five years now on “Brown,” a feature screenplay about John Brown, which has been optioned, and with luck may become “a major motion picture coming to a theater near you.”

Lowest moments are those middle-of-the-night times when I think of all the really stupid and silly things I’ve done. Mostly, I’m able to just say, “There’s nothing I can do about them now” and let them go, but sometimes …

J.P.: This might sound like as odd question, but how did you feel about your son going into acting? I mean, here you are, a guy who lived his life fighting, protesting, struggling for change. And your child enters a visual medium with, some could argue, the fleeting impact of temporary enjoyment.

J.M.: I’m much more concerned with what kind of person he’s become. And like I said, he’s a mensch. Entertainment and culture are super-important. As Emma Goldman said, “I don’t want your revolution if I can’t dance.” Working with David on “Brown” has been very exciting. I can imagine a tag line: “Before there was Lincoln, there was Brown.”

Also, there are lots of similarities between being an actor and being an activist. Demonstrations and rallies are true-life performances designed to make a point and both educate and sway people’s emotions.

J.P.: I live in California, and I’m at a loss with the drought. I truly am. It’s the worst in state history, yet nobody seems to care. Sprinklers run, pools are filled, etc … etc. I feel helpless; like I’m screaming into the wind. So what’s a guy to do?

J.M.: Whether it’s the drought or Miami Beach going under water or all the other “climate weirding” things that are happening, you just have to keep screaming. It may feel like your voice is getting carried away by the wind, but if “two and two and fifty make a million” people screaming, there’s an impact. We just have to hope that it’s fast enough.

J.P.: You turn 68 this year. I’m wondering how you feel about aging and the inevitability of death. Does it keep you up nights? Not bother you at all? Do you think, once a final breath is taken you’re simply gone forever, food for the worms? And are you comfortable with that?

J.M.: I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I love reading about the ways it’s been imagined. Two of my favorites are Mark Twain’s “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven” and I.L. Peretz’s “Bontsha The Silent.” I’ll be fine with being worm food, ashes under a tree, but it will also be nice if there’s something totally different from anything we’ve imagined. I’ve gone through the dying process with my parents and with a number of older friends and I’ve seen that a lot of times there comes a point when they say, “I’m tired. I’m ready to go.” And that’s sort of comforting. I definitely believe in a right to die—to pick the time and manner of your death.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 8.31.51 PM


• Five greatest leaders of your lifetime: “Don’t follow leaders/watch your parking meters.” So here are some non-leaders, and as long as I’m disregarding your instructions, here are more than five. The members of SNCC and CORE in the South collectively; Fannie Lou Hamer, Bob Moses, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party; Ella Baker; Dick Gregory; Eleanor Roosevelt; Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Kurt Vonnegut.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Mike Pagliarulo, Bobby Seale, “Dances with Wolves,” Oakland, spray tanning, Robert Loggia, Donna Summer, the smell of mashed potato, Bernie Sanders, Food Network, NFL cheerleaders: I hate rank orders, especially since US News and World Report started doing their stupid rankings of schools and everything else. So (in no particular order) I love the smell of mashed potatoes, feel the Bern, and admire Bobby Seale for starting the Panthers and not falling apart like Huey did. I’m glad the NFL cheerleaders are doing a class action for better pay and workplace rights; Robert Loggia was great in “Big” (and other things). I enjoyed “Dances with Wolves,” until Kevin Kostner ruined it for me a few years later by messing with Lakota land to get even richer. I just don’t understand the compulsion to get rich once you have enough to be comfortable and not to have to worry about not having any money. Don’t know much about Mike Pagliarulo, but can (on some days) recite the 1961 Yankee lineup from memory.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Every time I take off and every time there’s turbulence. I just watch to see when the wing is going to break off and wonder what it will feel like if it actually does.

• What’s the impact on your life of sharing a last name with the Russian capital?: When I was a kid in the early ‘50s, other kids knew the Russians were “bad” and they knew the Nazis were “bad” but they sometimes got them confused, so they would come up and say “Heil Hitler” and laugh. Lots of people seem to think Moscow must be short for Moscowitz, which it isn’t. It’s easy for people to spell once you tell them it’s “the same as the city in Russia.” No one ever spells Jon right even when you tell them.

• Three memories from your first-ever date?: I remember the girl well; I thought it was amazing that she used beer on her hair; and I was totally focused on whether we would kiss good night because that is what was supposed to happen.

• Best advice you ever received?: “Facts don’t speak for themselves.” “Never compare your own insides to someone else’s outside.” “We’re never getting divorced so we might as well make up as soon as possible.”

• Five reasons one should make Portland his/her next vacation destination?: The coast, the Gorge, Mt. Hood, Forest Park, The Lathe of Heaven, Trask, “Roll On, Columbia, Roll On.”

• You wrote, “The Supervisory Selection Process in New York City: A Parent Activist Perspective.” I’m thinking the movie stars Brad Pitt and Emily Watson. You game?: More like a seven-year HBO series. Maybe like “The Sopranos” in a school setting.

• You have a six-page resume. My college journalism professor always told me to keep the resume to one page. Think you can get that to me in a few hours?: Which resume do you want? I’ve got several, all accurate, all different.

• In exactly 22 words, what are your thoughts on Common Core?: Experts developed Common Core in isolation, rushed its introduction, and tied it into destructive testing. Things never turn out how you expect.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 11.58.48 PM

Peter Gleick

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 11.58.48 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 11.01.11 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 11.01.55 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 11.02.32 PM

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.)

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 11.03.58 PM


• 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.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 4.18.32 PM

Jeff Passan

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 4.18.32 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 11.33.30 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 4.18.47 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 12.40.21 AM

Jerry Azar

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 12.40.21 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 11.58.18 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 12.40.05 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 12.39.02 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 12.40.32 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 11.57.28 PM


• 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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 12.52.53 AM

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?

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 12.55.57 AM

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!

JP 5

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 9.54.23 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 12.55.10 AM


• 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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 12.26.23 AM

Na’il Diggs

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 11.28.57 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 11.27.11 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 11.26.55 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 11.28.17 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 11.29.27 PM


• 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.