Jeff Pearlman

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Emmitt Smith takes a weak cheap shot …

This morning I appeared on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” a sports-news program hosted by the excellent Bob Ley. I was told a few days ago that I would be a guest alongside Jean-Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News (one helluva writer) and Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, a Dancing With The Stars champ and perhaps the worst televised football analyst in the history of the world. (And I was around for Joe Montana.)

I was sort of curious how this whole show would fly, because Smith is one of the few Cowboys who refused to speak with me for “Boys Will Be Boys.” While working on the book I contacted his representatives on multiple occasions; asked through friends of friends; so on and so on—and was told that, these days, Smith only talks to book authors if he’s paid handsomely. Perhaps I would have found this to be surprising were I not warned ahead of time by myriad ex-Cowboys that the post-NFL Smith had become gallingly greedy and self-centered. “Emmitt being Emmitt,” they’d say. Oh, well. I moved on.

So there I sat this morning at about 8:50, alone in a New York City television studio, an earpiece in my left lobe, as Ley said, “Before we start, Emmitt Smith, say hello to Jeff Pearlman.”

The conversation went thusly:

Smith: “Hey, Jeff.”

Me: “Hey, Emmitt. How are you?”

Smith: “So how many of my teammates did you talk to for this book?”

Me: “I guess about 130.”

Smith: Long pause. “Oh. I don’t think I had 130 teammates.”

For the next minute, Smith insinuated that the idea of somebody not named, well, Emmitt Smith writing a ’90s Cowboys book is sort of wrong; the said-but-unsaid Who the hell are you to step on our turf? bravado that so many athletes unload on journalists. He wasn’t rude, per se, just antagonistic and off-putting (OK, maybe rude).

The show finally started, and after a segment by Ed Werder, Taylor, Smith and I began our “dialogue.” (I place “dialogue” in quotes because—despite Ley’s best intentions and efforts—it’s difficult to have a real, unfiltered dialogue between four guys with ear pieces in four different studios). We all answered questions, Taylor offering his detailed Cowboy knowledge, Smith throwing out one of his trademark linguistic butcherings (“In some way, form or fashion …”), I sort of sucking (and decked out in perhaps the worst TV shirt of the 21st century. Note to others: Bright yellow—bad). Then, with 10 seconds left, Taylor made a final point, Ley thanked the three of us and—with his last televised breath—Smith offered one last, snider-than-snide thought:

“Jeff,” he said with a grin, “keep selling books.”

It was far from a compliment. The man who wouldn’t talk to me; who would only agree to an interview should I pay him—was taking a cowardly parting shot. Has Emmitt Smith read the book? Doubtful (it doesn’t even come out for nine more days). No, he just dislikes the idea of someone stepping on his rightful turf. And if a writer dares delve into the ’90s Cowboys, he/she is violating sacred territory. That was the clear intent of his words: You are taking advantage of us to make money.

The truth is, I wrote “Boys Will Be Boys” because I love sports; I love writing; I’ve always wanted to take a shot at football (I’m a baseball guy, primarily) and the Cowboys offered the perfect storm: On-field greatness; off-field insanity; wild characters; limited books on the subject). I didn’t spend two years of my life putting this together to “get” people like Emmitt or Michael Irvin or Troy Aikman. I did it because I love the process and the digging and the free-flowing writing books allow.

Oh, well. I’ve learned my lesson. No more yellow shirts.

* A good side note: While waiting, someone told me that a member of the ’90s Cowboys had recently read the first chapter of “Boys Will Be Boys,” which details the afternoon when Michael Irvin picked up a scissors and stabbed a teammate in the neck. “Man,” the Cowboy said, “we thought that would never get out.” As a reporter, I feel awfully good about that.

** Another side note: The strange thing is that, of all the primary subjects in “Boys Will Be Boys,” Smith comes off like a saint. He worked hard, ran his ass off, raised the Cowboys to a new level.

  • Why is the text on the pictures all backwards?

  • 1. It took me two years to learn that I had color settings on my TV. Once they were adjusted, everything looked better. The majority of people will *not* notice the yellow shirt.

    2. I think you should find a way to condense this Emmitt-parting-shot anecdote and use it on your book tour. It’s awesome.

  • In the immortal words of Wu Tang Clan, protect your neck, kid. Protect your neck.

    Other than that, keep writing!

  • Jeff — I saw that live and was angered for you. I wish you’d known it was coming so you could have shot back something like “Thanks for being mature, Emmitt.” What a jerk. That nearly illiterate (judging from his speech) fool is not PART of the evil media, and yet he still clearly dislikes you for having the temerity to write about a franchise with plenty to write about.

    So uncalled for and I’m glad you called him out here. I’m CERTAIN Emmitt has never read a book in his life and simply doesn’t understand — he can go talk to Joe Morgan who is exactly the same way.

  • Ben

    I think you should send Emmit a book c/o of ESPN, and a week later send him a bill for the book with a note about how you are trying all means to “keep seeling books.”

    With regard to the post-NFL Smith beeing greedy, didn’t he keep all of the footballs from his TD’s so he could sell them off later. This may not be a new thing for him.

  • Steve

    Should’ve gone with the “jerk-store” insult…..

    /missed opportunity

  • Jason

    I think the “Yeah? Well, I had sex with your wife,” insult would have been more effective.

  • Kelly

    jeff, i have always wondered why is it wrong for a subject of a book to ask for payment to be interviewed for a book that will generate profit for you and not for the subject? It seems as though Emmit was being a tool, but can you blame a guy for not wanting to help (even indirectly) line the pockets of a random writer that hasnt “done anything” to help line his pockets?

  • Pingback: Dallas Blog Boys Will Be Boys as Boys Will Be Boys Author Meets Emmitt Smith on Dallas Blogging()

  • Sorry I missed this, Jeff. Can’t wait to read the book.

    By the way – nothing wrong with bright a yellow shirt, as long as you are lit correctly (you weren’t). Was the sun directly behind the camera or floating just over your head? Jesus.

    John

  • MJK

    Jeff – Keep selling books !

    It seems like a shame that you apparently couldn’t come up with a load of dirt on Emmitt. Perhaps he was a hard worker, good citizen, and good teammate but he is so bad on TV he’s entertaining.

    Emmitt – Keep your hand out.

  • Chris

    Don’t worry about the shirt Jeff, Jean-Jacques Taylor’s shirt completely distracted me.

  • Richard

    What did you think his attitude would be? You wrote a slam book about his teammates that he wouldn’t comment on when you were writing it. And now he’s going to share tv time with you on the network who olbermann’d him from their NFL coverage? Are you that naive?
    Jeff, I find it amusing when you always cry about negative feedback from being a public figure by writing about a public figure. Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it!!

  • Bo

    Does Pearlman ever have a story that isn’t about himself?

  • Tim

    Jeff-

    I didn’t think the “cheap shot” was all that cheap. You write a book with (some) criticism of the organization around which Emmitt based his adult life. He’s prickly about it. And so would you be. If you can dish, you have to be able to take it without whining.

    And the difference between Tank/Pac Man and Irvin and co. is that the former are on their last chance with the NFL. Contra your point, Jerry can’t give them any more chances even if he wants to.

  • Dave

    Jeff, you’re a fraud. But I guess when you can’t do anything worthwhile, and your life is miserable…you can write a book to feed yourself.

    You’re a fraud.

  • Jason

    Ultimately, the only reason Pearlman does anything is to make money.

    He has no knowledge or ethics.

    The yellow shirt says it best – PEARLMAN IS A LOSER.

  • JR

    Take a look at the police blotter over the past 4 years and how many times do you see the Dallas Cowboys on it? Write all you want about what was going on 15 years ago but you are trying to make something out of nothing when it comes to today’s Cowboys. Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame.

  • Steve

    What a cheap insult. He should’ve just kept him mouth shut and then taken a shot at your weak journalistic skills on his personal blog, like you did. That’s the mature way to handle it right?

    Come on Jeff. Do you honestly expect normal people to sympathize with you? Emmitt Smith doesn’t owe you anything.

    I have to laugh when i hear journalists attacking players for refusing to do interviews, when your whole intent is to cash in on the popularity of the Cowboys by exploiting lies and rumors from 15 years ago. Step out of your bubble Jeff, people don’t like sniveling, money-grubbing journalists.

  • Trent

    Jeff why you are an idiot: 1.You say “the Dallas fans are willing to put up with it(players with questionable backgrounds)”, and I’m parapharsing here, there is no repercussion if the players fall into past bad behavior. Reason you are an idiot #1: Dallas fans, are no different than any other sports franchise fans. I have lived in three cities with pro sports and every single one of them are the same. They just want to win. Now, you can make your own judgements on the moral state of America, but I don’t appreciate you calling out Cowboy fans on national television like we are some sort of an oddity.

    2.You opined, Is Jerry Jones going to give Pacman Jones & Tank Johnson a second, third, and forth chance? Reason you are an idiot #2: There is no second chances for either one of these players because the league has let it be known, this is their final chance. Get your goofy looking bald head out of your rear end and read a newspaper. I’m sorry, it must be hard to manage your time with all those polka competitions. Douche.
    And by the way, for a little scrony prick, you sure are a tough guy, calling Emmitt Smith’s comment cowardly on your little web site here. Let’s see you be that tough to Emmitts’ face in a dark alley. Didn’t think so.

  • .Once again I see the hypocritic media types…Err Pearlman why arent u giving the book away since its not about making a living or greed?wow from a guy who actually chose to make a living “talking” about other people..I wish one of the Cowboys would have smacked u in the mouth ..Of course u wouldnt have sued ..Its not about the money…its all about your “journalistic” integrity huh…lol

  • Tom

    You idiots dumping on Jeff are probably the same ones claiming that when the media points out Palin’s ridiculous bullshit lying that they’re “biased.”

  • Jeff:

    I didn’t see the interview live, I saw only what’s been posted to Youtube.

    Personally, I didn’t think Emmitt’s parting shot was all that. On the other hand, I think you have every right to write whatever you want, but don’t be surprised at the reaction you get from Cowboy fans who will naturally feel defensive about their team.

    I think you’re taking Emmitt’s comment a bit too personally, but given the history between you two, I guess I can understand why.

  • Antonio

    WAit a minute folks — have any of you read Pearlman’s book on the 86 Mets? It’s a labor of love, and it’s also a fine piece of sports journalism and a great read. I’m a lifelong Cowboys fan and an NFL writer, and I just got Boys Will Be Boys from my GF for Christmas. I read the first few chapters and can honestly say it doesn’t seem to be about exploitattion. It’s about journalism. And that’s work. You get paid for the good work you do, and if Jeff’s book makes him money, so be it. He’s a writer. Emmitt was a great football player and is unfortunately a bad NFL analyst. HE got paid well for his playing abilities and I’m sure he makes more than he should for butchering the English language on TV during live broadcasts. LEt’s keep all of this in perspective, folks. Jeff’s a writer, and a good one. Emmitt’s an analyst, and a bad one. Emmitt was given ample opportunity to speak to JEff before the book came out, and he took an unprovoked cheap shot at Jeff during a live broadcast that was probably seen by way more people than will buy Jeff’s book. I don’t understand how this is an issue of dishing it out and not taking it.

  • KMDB

    Please, please, everyone. Please try to remember than ONLY Pearlman can say negative things about people.

    ONLY Pearlman can be an antagonistic asshole.

    ONLY Pearlman can complain about someone’s not so rude “per se” comments and cry and sniffle and be a little bitch about it.

    As usual.

    Not to your face, mind you. He’ll do it in print behind your back after you, as an athlete, give him some of your time. This might be why nobody wants to talk to this douche anymore.

    Boy, my comment sounds like a Pearlman nugget. But anytime you’d like to meet face to face, let me know.

  • josh

    It may just be me but this article seems even more petty than Emmitt’s “cheap shot” (if that’s what you wanna call it). At least he did it to your face, you’re doing it behind his back…why don’t you have your mom call his mom and handle it like a man

Showtime Book
Love Me, Hate Me Barry Bonds Book
Sweetness Walter Peyton Book
The Bad Guys Won Book
The Rocket that Fell to Earth Book
Boys Will Be Boys Book

Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

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