Tag Archives: espn

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 10.56.40 PM

Mike Pritchard

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 10.57.42 PM

If you think about it, athletic fame—even at the highest level—is preposterously fleeting. One day you’re a star, enjoying free meals, absorbing the cheers of 60,000 fans, signing autographs and entering a room to stares and gasps.

The next day, you’re one of us again.

In the course of his nine-year NFL run, Mike Pritchard was no ordinary player. Beginning in 1991, when he was a first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons, and concluding with the Seahawks in 1999, Mike caught 422 balls, which ties Bobby Joe Conrad, Jay Novacek and Bob Tucker for 198th on the NFL’s all-time list. And while you may think, “Whoa, 198th. Big whoops,” … well, where do you rank?

The point: Mike Pritchard was a player. Fast, Shifty. Tough. He survived longer than most and produced more than most. Which makes him both a man with a thick resume and a guy who can talk openly, freely about a world of experiences (aka: a very worthy Quaz Q&A).

These days Mike lives in Las Vegas, where he serves as co-host of the Mitch & Pritch Show on ESPN Radio. One can follow him on Twitter here.

Mike Pritchard, you are the 313th Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Mike, you’re 47—at the age where a lot of former NFL players really start feeling the impact of their athletic career. So … how does having been a football player physically affect your day-to-day life? Do you have pains? Aches? Limitations? And how much do you worry about either a mental or physical slide due to football?

MIKE PRITCHARD: I was a slot receiver most of my career which meant going across the middle a lot. Considering my collisions were against linebackers and safeties I thought I would be in horrible shape right now. I’m actually happy that just my left knee reminds me of football. The constant pain and swelling is annoying but I can still be active. I lacerated my kidney while playing with the Broncos. I was able to play several years after that incident and so far it hasn’t affected my day to day life.

J.P.: Along those lines, I’ve often seen interviews with retired players, and they can barely walk, or their memory is terrible, or they need a new knee or hip or heart valve or whatever. And yet, they usually say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” I don’t get that. Like, at all—the trading of health for glory. Can you explain …

M.P.: I’m pretty positive that i would change my knee, back pain and a lacerated kidney if I just played for glory. What kept me on the field despite the dangers was the desire to compete. It just so happens that I was pretty good with competing on the field. Maybe winning a national championship at the University of Colorado back in 1990 had some influence as well. Now I compete with my mind.

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 10.58.30 PM

J.P.: You came along a little before we absolutely nitpicked over every measurement a football player offered; before we raved over 4.43 speed but bemoaned 4.5 speed; before we decided a guy would become legend because he jumped really high in his underwear. So I wonder—do you think football scouting has gone too far? Do we overthink this stuff? Or is there truly an importance of a receiver running 4.34 on an indoor track, as opposed to 4.4?

M.P.: Great question. I think nitpicking can help when used for discovery. That was the case with me and I will explain. If you evaluate talent for a living obviously you use what works for you. If 4.34 vs. 4.4 or benching 225 18 times instead of 16 has lead to a pretty good player you will probably use these parameters again (copycat league, Jeff). For me, the league thought I could play but needed to find out more prior to the draft. My performance during the NFL Combine validated what evaluators initially thought and confirmed to them that I belonged in their league.

J.P.: You spent nine years in the NFL, and I wonder— does it live up to the hype? What I mean is, parents push their kids toward pro sports careers; children dream of it and dream of it and dream of it. Well, you got there. You did it. Was it worth the hard work? Does it meet the expectations?

M.P.: Playing in the NFL totally exceeded expectations. I had no comparisons either. My dad was a career Air Force serviceman and my brother followed in his footsteps. I knew I wanted to go to college but I didn’t have one dream of playing in the NFL. I was a fan and admired the great players but honestly I didn’t have an NFL-or-bust mentality. When I arrived on the scene as a rookie with the Atlanta Falcons it was like a whole new world just opened up to me and I wanted to stay in it. I was willing to work hard and sacrifice more because of 1) the championship in college and 2) this new world of professional sports and what it could provide. So in the end, yes the experience was worth it.

J.P.: You were a first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 1991. The team took Brett Favre in the second round—and the pairing didn’t work. You were there; you caught passes from him. Who was the young Favre? Could he have excelled in Atlanta?

M.P.: The young Brett Favre threw three touchdown  passes to me during the first preseason game of the 1991 season. Brett was immensely talented but not refined. He just needed coaching and a positive NFL influence. The 1991 Atlanta Falcons organization had talent as well, but we did not have a winning culture. If the culture was different I absolutely believe Brett would have excelled. Brett felt early on that he had something to prove. Competing with a chip on his shoulder drove Brett to the Hall of Fame.

J.P.: You were traded from the Falcons to the Broncos in 1994, at a time when there weren’t a ton of NFL trades. So … what does it feel like to be traded? Does one feel for wanted (by the new team) or unwanted (by the old)? How did you find out about it? How did you accept the information?

M.P.: The NFL was weird back then. We just started to experience free agency. The money started to flood in as well. My agent had positioned us perfectly with a three-year contract and I was designated a restricted free agent. Also, the Falcons had fired Jerry Glanville as the head coach and was naming June Jones the new head coach. I wanted to stay in Atlanta but at the same time all of our talent was walking out the door.

The Broncos contacted my agent and wanted to see if there was interest in playing back in Colorado with John Elway. I said “Hell, yeah!” and the trade came about. The trade was a win/win for me—Atlanta was going through a transition and Denver had John Elway. If I didn’t lacerate my kidney during the first year in Denver I believe it would have been a special year.

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 11.00.35 PM

J.P.: Your final NFL season came in 1999, when you caught 26 passes with the Seahawks. How did you know you were done? Could you tell physical changes? Recovery changes? Were you accepting of the end of your career? Was it hard to digest?

M.P.: Jeff, my career was loaded with mishaps. The trade to Denver started with a lot of promise, as I was at the top of the AFC in receptions before the kidney incident. In 1999 Seattle hired Mike Holmgren as its head coach. I had a tremendous offseason which led to a new contract from Seattle and Coach Holmgren targeting me with the flanker receiver position (think Jerry Rice and Antonio Freeman). Needless to say i was ecstatic.

During fall training camp a rookie wide receiver ran into my left knee and I tore my lateral meniscus cartilage. The MRI revealed a slight tear but when the surgeon went inside he found more significant damage. After the surgery I was informed that my left knee was now without cartilage. Jeff, it was instant arthritis. My Jerry Rice role disappeared and so did any more years on my career. If it wasn’t for Toradol injections i wouldn’t have caught those 26 passes. I was accepting of the end of my career because the pain was too much to handle.

J.P.: As I age I become more and more skeptical about all things college football. It just seems like this big meat factory, where (oftentimes) young African-American men from urban areas are plucked out of poverty by wealthy white men, offered promises of NFL fame, given unrealistic educational expectations (maintain a 2.5 while also practicing 40 hours per week—and traveling on weekends). Yes, there are many successes. But there are MANY heartbreaking stories, too. Mike, am I off here?

M.P.: Jeff, you are spot on. Young African-American men are promised the world especially if they can help a professional coach win games and secure his position. I think the art of recruiting has been lost with the elevation of head coaching salaries in college football. When I was recruited all that was promised to me was that I would have a chance at an education and that I would be able to compete against the best teams in college football. There was no promise that Colorado would help me get to the NFL. I was accepting of that and was fine with it. Today’s head coaches are making incredible sums of money, which leads to jaded promises and even more cheating all for the sake of the university’s bottom line.

Last I checked tuition, enrollment and conference TV contracts are up. Jeff, I do believe there is a bubble in college football (debt levels of Michigan and California athletic programs). It will be interesting to see what happens down the road.

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 10.58.59 PM

J.P.: How does it feel to be a member of the media, having been covered for so long? Was it weird at first? Offputting? Do you still think of yourself first and foremost as a retired athlete, or as a radio host? And does your experience on the field truly help you as an observer?

M.P.: Jeff, my media experience has had its moments. I always had interest. During my career I had media opportunities with TV and radio. My goal is to broadcast games (color analyst) nationally. I have broadcasted Arena League and college football for the past 15 years but mostly for local and regional areas.

Sports talk radio has been an eye opener. I thought that egos only existed in professional sports. Man, was i mistaken. I still feel like a player performing in the media as opposed to a member of the media. I don’t want to insult journalism or a journalist by claiming to be a member of the media. It’s more fun to remain coachable. I have found that my experience on the field helps me to provide perspective and has been entertaining as well.

J.P.: Do you ever get bored of sports? It’s been your life for so long—are you ever like, “Ugh, if I never see another Browns-Jets game I’d be America’s happiest human”?

M.P.: Honestly, I didn’t get bored of sports until I started doing a sports talk show. How funny is that?

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 10.56.05 PM

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MIKE PRITCHARD:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Never had that thought. We had to dump fuel once but I always believed we would land safely.

• Five most-talented football players you ever played with/against?: Deion Sanders, Barry Sanders, John Elway, Warren Moon, Jerry Rice (tied for sixth—Joe Montana, Steve Atwater, Junior Seau)

• Is Pete Rose inducted into the Hall of Fame within the next two decades?: Yes, right after sports betting is legalized in the United States.

• The world needs to know, what was it like playing with Itula Mili?: LOL … it was an honor. From what i remember Mili was a quiet player trying to find his way in the league

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Circus Circus, Jeff Feagles, Denver Post, deep tissue massage, salted peanuts, Steve Broussard, your right elbow, “Dances with Wolves,” Jerry Glanville, Rebecca Lobo, Cher, MC Ren: Deep tissue massage, Circus Circus, salted peanuts, Denver Post, Jerry Glanville, MC Ren, my right elbow, Rebecca Lobo, Steve Broussard, Cher, Jeff Feagles, Dances with Wolves.

• We give you one start in an NFL game right now, what’s your statistical line?: 9 catches for 163 yards and 2 TD’s


• Five reasons one should make Las Vegas his home: Convenience, entertainment, weather, women, and Los Angeles is close

• Five ugliest uniforms in pro sports: Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Blue Jays, Vancouver Canucks

• Reality TV calls—they want you to race Chris Hinton, Bobby Hebert, Marisa Tomei and an alligator in a pool of vanilla pudding. Winner gets $500,000. You in?: No. Two reasons … one, alligator and two, I can’t swim.

• How bad are my Jets going to be in 2017?: B- A- A- D….BAAD, BAAD, BAAD!!

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 11.02.12 AM

Michael Rothstein

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 11.01.45 AM

If you’re a fan of digging and probing and reporting at its finest, you have to love ESPN’s Michael Rothstein.

In a strict sense, the veteran scribe covers the Detroit Lions, but that’s sort of like saying, oh, Rickey Henderson was once a speedy leadoff hitter. Rothstein’s work is all over the map. He does the deep dive. He does the injury update. His features are lovely, his profiles revealing. To be honest, he’s sort of buried on the Lions beat, in that non-Detroit NFL fans probably miss some of ESPN.com’s absolute best work.

Hence, his status as the 307th Quaz.

Today, Michael talks about surviving the recent ESPN carnage; about whether the Lions are better off without Calvin Johnson and how he approaches assignments in the hard-to-crack NFL. He once had a dog named Magic, he makes a pretty unconvincing case for Garry Templeton’s Hall of Fame candidacy and his Bar Mitzvah was sort of a mess.

One can follow Michael on Twitter here, and check out much of his work here. He’s one of the best in the business, and now he’s one of the best of the Quazes …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Michael, last week ESPN laid off a ton of reporters, and I’m wondering what this was like for you. Were you nervous? Did you know you were safe? And how did it make you feel?

MICHAEL ROTHSTEIN: Absolutely there were nerves and fear. How can there not be? It’s human nature because you don’t know what is going to happen. I feel incredibly grateful and fortunate to still have a job at ESPN. As far as that day, I’m not going to get too much into specifics. I will say throughout that entire day and still now, thought more about the people who were losing their jobs. So many people I know were part of the cuts – including my first beat partner at ESPN, Chantel Jennings, and one of the people who was instrumental in hiring me, Jeremy Crabtree. That’s not even going down the list of people I’ve worked with and have become acquaintances and friends over the years. They are all talented and, more importantly, good people.

J.P.: I usually don’t go overly conventional, but I’m gonna go overly conventional: You cover the Detroit Lions. Last year, after losing one of the Top 5 players in franchise history, they improved from 7-9 to 9-7. I don’t get it. Was Calvin Johnson’s loss at all an addition? Can that argument be made?

M.R.: Ha, this a very conventional question. Despite Detroit’s record this season, I wouldn’t say the Lions losing a generational talent like Calvin Johnson ended up as an addition. Anyone who says that is discounting how good Johnson was. The short answer is the argument can be made, sure, but it’s not one I agree with.

Johnson’s retirement did forced Matthew Stafford to read defenses and throw to the open guy. It might sound like a simple concept, but when Johnson was on the field, there were times where Stafford felt he could throw to Johnson even when he had double (or triple) coverage on him because it was still a favorable matchup. Along with a full offseason for the best name in sports, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, to put together an offense, Detroit changed what it did after Johnson retired. The Lions went with short passes instead of throwing deep because they had a game-breaker in Johnson. The Lions just didn’t have that type of player this year in their receiving corps. Marvin Jones has speed and hands but was too inconsistent. Golden Tate works best when you get him the ball off a short pass and allow him to miss. That’s been his game since I started covering him his freshman year at Notre Dame.

In the NFL, half the games teams play are tossups. Unless a team is New England, how a team fares in those six-to-eight games makes the difference between 10-6 or 9-7 and 6-10. In 2014 and 2016, the Lions won the majority of those games. In 2015, they didn’t and started off the year 1-7, costing the team’s old general manager and team president their jobs.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 11.01.22 AM

J.P.: I hate dealing with the NFL, because there are just so many overly protective, super guarded PR people limiting media access to the bare minimum. So … how do you tolerate it?

M.R.: It’s actually something I’ve never really thought about because of how I came up in the industry. Before covering the NFL, I covered colleges for about a decade. I spent four years covering Notre Dame under Charlie Weis—where access wasn’t terrible but wouldn’t be considered open—and four years covering Michigan football, where access was just poor. There were times covering Michigan where I would be going to a press availability not knowing who I would be talking to with no control who I would be interviewing. This sounds like whining, but it definitely hurts in preparation.

In my four years covering Michigan football, the school went from having reporters stake out the parking lot after games to try and interview players (seriously—I ended up chasing former defensive coordinator Greg Robinson across a parking lot for an interview once) to all podium after a game and having no say in players I’d be talking with. Whenever I get annoyed by something, access-wise, in the NFL, I think back to that.

In the NFL, you’re dealing with adults and other than a handful of players, pretty much everyone is at least somewhat accessible. I’ve always maintained—and I’m guessing you probably agree—that telling good stories often starts with the relationships you build.

When I was really young, maybe still in college, I read Dick Schaap’s autobiography “Flashing Before My Eyes.” I grew up watching and reading Schaap. He was someone I looked up to as a kid when I decided I wanted to get into this. In the book, he talked about how he tried to collect people. That thought stuck with me. It’s pretty much how I’ve approached my job ever since.

Collect people, learn about them and what makes them who they are and convince them to open up to you to tell their stories. Glover Quin, Travis Swanson and, after a lot of digging, Matthew Stafford did this year. None of that happens if there aren’t relationships built.

I went off on a tangent, but it’s the long answer for how I tolerate it.

J.P.: Without naming names (unless you want to), do you ever feel like you can see the mental impact of football’s brutality on players? What I mean is, do you ever notice a slurring or slowing of speech, a lessening of sharpness, etc? Even if it’s slight?

M.R.: I see it more when I talk with players who are no longer playing the game instead of ones inside an NFL locker room. Rare is the player willing to discuss how brutal this game is on the mind and body while they are playing. It’s what made me appreciate a player like DeAndre Levy, who the Lions released this offseason, that much more. Levy openly challenged the NFL about CTE research and admitted he thinks about CTE and whether or not he might have it. He just turned 30.

A former NFL player I’ve gotten to know a bit through the years was the one who really opened my eyes to how brutal this game is mentally. I had already known about some of the effects of concussions, but he had a stroke at age 32. It’s not clear if football is what caused it, but you don’t often hear of 32-year olds suffering strokes. Or at least I haven’t.

I’ve definitely had players tell me they forget things and that they wonder if their days playing football are among the reasons why. I’ve had other players ignore the potential ramifications of what they do—and that’s something that just doesn’t compute with me.

Other than Levy, one of the players that was the most open about brain injuries and football was Rashean Mathis. I talked with him for about an hour about it early in the 2015 season. Among the things he told me was he would do everything he could to steer his son away from playing football—and that he thinks the league and the players need to do a better job of understanding the risks and educating parents of future players. That season, he suffered a concussion. It wasn’t diagnosed for over a week. He eventually landed on injured reserve because of it—and having already played a decade in the league, retired after the season.

When I was a kid I really wanted to play football. But my parents—my mom, specifically—forbade it. Pre-teen and teenage me was angry. Adult me understands why she chose to make that decision. NFL players saying similar things made me realize, all these years later, that my body is thankful for that decision. I played sandlot football with friends and other sports (poorly) instead.

J.P.: Along those lines—you’ve seen what this sport does to people. I mean, one veteran after another with brain damage, with no knees, with ALS, with … on and on. Do you think we, the sports media, should feel any guilt over our coverage of a profession some compare to big tobacco?

M.R.: That’s a tough question, Jeff, but it’s something I’ve definitely thought about. There have been days when I’ve finished up work and said to myself, ‘I’m watching these guys literally destroy themselves.’ And that’s sometimes a really difficult thing to wrestle with, especially as you get to know players and spend time with them for stories, learning about their families, their pasts and their goals beyond football.

On the professional level, there is at least compensation, but I remember interviewing one player after his college career was over—he didn’t end up making it in the league—and he couldn’t remember how many concussions he had. Sure, he got a college education, but the damage he might feel later on in life he won’t have compensation for.

It kind of goes back to the question before, but that was really sobering for me. As sports media—and I think my employer and others do a good job of this—we should be shining lights on what happens to players later on in life. How they struggle not only with the transition from leaving football to regular 9-to-5 life but also the health problems they end up suffering from.

One thing I think might happen more often is what happened with Calvin Johnson. He played nine years. He made a bunch of money and then walked away while he still could. I had dinner with him in December and he was showing me his fingers—some were not able to bend how your fingers and my fingers bend. His ankles hurt a lot. He deals with a pinched nerve in his shoulder. Those are things that are likely not going away. Walking away with his relative health was important to him and I think you’re seeing that more and more each year. Players just don’t discuss it while they are playing.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 11.02.34 AM

J.P.: I know very little about you—New York native, Lions writer. Soooo … how did this happen for you? Soup to nuts—what was your career path?

M.R.: That’s a question I ask myself from time to time. So not-so-brief resume: Grew up in East Meadow, New York and realized pretty early on playing sports on a high level was never going to happen. But I was always fascinated with writing. When I was a kid, I would use a typewriter to start movie scripts based off the Bad News Bears. In sixth grade, at Woodland Middle School, we had an assignment to write a book. Most kids wrote something simple. I don’t know how long mine was, but it had a plot centered around the United States and U.S.S.R. hockey teams, the Cold War ending during the Olympics and what would happen if there were long-lost relatives playing for each team. My parents, who were big supporters of mine from the beginning, actually had it illustrated. I was a kid, so I didn’t quite get the political ramifications, but I got an A.

I meandered through East Meadow High School, where I wrote for the school paper (and was fired because I wouldn’t apologize for a column I wrote about how senioritis was a good thing …) and had two big influences there: Paul Gott and Dr. Franklin Caccuitto. They helped refine my love of writing. I always loved learning and had a penchant for being annoying with questions, so it seemed like a fit.

Then I went to Syracuse, where I thought I wanted to be on TV. Quickly I found out anchoring wasn’t in my future because I was horrific with head turns from Camera 1 to Camera 2. Just picture an awkward T-Rex doing it and that was me. I also discovered I liked being able to sit down with people to learn about them instead of getting in-and-out in a 45-second VOSOT. I was lucky, because I had two strong professorial mentors—John Nicholson and Mel Coffee. They really pushed me.

I was at what I consider the best student paper in the country, the Daily Orange, and really got my education there. The staff we had was insane. I met two of my closer friends and early mentors there—Greg Bishop and another Quaz participant, Jeff Passan—who happen to be two of the most talented writers in the country. Pulitzer Prize winner Eli Saslow, who might be the best journalist under 40 in the United States, was two years behind me. The staff was so talented (Chico Harlan, Darryl Slater, Chris Snow, Chris Carlson, Pete Thamel, Connor Ennis, Dave Curtis, John Jiloty and Ron DePasquale were among the people I worked with for at least a little while in my time at the D.O.) and they were all influences.

I had no true journalism internships in college. I worked at Z100 in New York in promotions for a summer at the height of the boy band and Britney Spears/Jessica Simpson/Christina Aguilera/Mandy Moore boom. It was the most fun I’ve had in a job. I also worked at two summer camps as a counselor, including one where one of my campers was Matthew Koma, who has won a Grammy for the song ‘Clarity.’ When I was done with school, I applied everywhere around the country for a job hoping to find … something. That something was a job in Victorville, California—in the middle of the Mojave Desert. I was there 11 months, covered everything from Little League to minor league baseball and grew up a ton.

I wouldn’t be where I am now had Chris Simmons not hired me to go work in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Those two years made everything else possible. Chris was my biggest mentor and had a reputation for creating good journalists. He made me hundreds of times better as a reporter and also 1,000-times better as a man. He taught me how to really report and develop sources and gave me the tough love I needed. When jobs came open at his place after I left, I always told any young journalist to apply. He could have been an editor anywhere in the country but chose to stay there. Chris died last year and showing how much he influenced the writers he worked for, people flew in from all over the country for his funeral. In the back of my head I still ask myself when I’m working on a story what would Chris say.

From there I went to cover Notre Dame for four years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I covered football and basketball. It was my first real exposure to big-time sports, broke a few stories that won national awards and picked up another mentor in Ben Smith, who taught me the importance of humility and empathy in my writing. I also met some of my closest friends and sounding boards in the business: Brian Hamilton, Adam Rittenberg and Pete Sampson. After four years, the Ann Arbor News was folding and they started AnnArbor.com. They wanted someone to cover Michigan basketball, so I took the chance on a startup. I covered Michigan basketball and football for two years before a connection I made while covering Notre Dame called me to ask if I would be interested in going to work for ESPN. That, to both 10-year-old me and 30-year-old me, was a no-brainer.

I got hired to cover Michigan and did that for two seasons along with bringing my creation in Indiana, the National College Basketball Player of the Year poll, to ESPN. In the spring of 2013 I had heard about NFL Nation starting and it seemed like an intriguing new challenge. I expressed interest to my bosses and they let me interview and was fortunate enough to get hired. Been doing this four years now and it’s been an incredible experience. I’ve gone back to my TV roots on occasion—including fulfilling my childhood dream of being on SportsCenter—and work with some amazing colleagues, from my bosses now (Chad Millman, Mary Byrne, Chris Sprow, John Pluym and Roman Modrowski) to the other 31 people who cover NFL teams in our group. I learn from them daily. ESPN also gave me one of my biggest supporters, Gerry Matalon, and I’ve been extremely grateful for all of the advice he’s dispensed.

I’m definitely a work in progress – both on television and as a writer—but I’m always curious to see what’s going to happen next. But I try to never forget how fortunate I am to be in this position. Worked hard to get here, but got so much help along the way—and I’m sure I forgot to mention some of those people. It’s why I try to be as open and accessible as possible to young journalists coming up. I’m all about paying it forward. (Speaking of which, if you’re a young journalist with questions, feel free to reach out. My email is michael.rothstein@espn.com).

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 11.02.48 AM

J.P.: So I stopped covering baseball at SI because, after a while, I just stopped giving a shit. It got boring, repetitive. Your job is to live and breathe football. Detroit Lions football. How do you avoid fatigue? Do you avoid fatigue? Can you still get up for Theo Riddick’s ankle surgery?

M.R.: Like anything else, there are times I get burnt out. The last few weeks of a season, whether it’s heading toward a playoff run, a coaching search or the unknown, starts to wear on you because you’re on almost 24-7 from late July until January. It’s not a physically demanding gig, but mentally it’s grueling. What I’ve really tried to do is to go find things that interest me within football and then write about it. Sometimes, that leads to me writing about silicone wedding rings or what’s more frightening, a bear or a hippo. Or, I’ll go to Madison, Wisconsin for a weekend to write about the world of Tecmo Super Bowl gaming. That keeps it interesting.

I also like the competition. Dave Birkett, who covers the Lions for the Detroit Free Press, is a friend and one of the best beat writers in the country. Trying to beat him keeps me going because I’m very, very competitive—another gift from my parents.

There are days that can feel like forever and points where it gets boring and repetitive, but that’s when I go off and try to find something totally different to write about. That centers me. I’ve also started unplugging and traveling abroad in the summer, most recently to Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, and working out daily. Even in-season, every day I try to make sure I do at least one thing solely for myself, even if that’s going on a three-mile run. That helps keep me fresh.

J.P.: Does the ability to write with touch, detail, depth, precision, insight matter as much in this era of quick turnarounds as it did, say, 10 years ago? I mean, I graduated college in 1994, and it was all about trying to craft. Is there still a place for that?

M.R.: There are days it doesn’t feel like it does, but yeah, it still matters. It’s a constant news cycle filled with 140-character updates and Facebook Live and Instagram and sometimes writing 10-to-12 times a day. But a good story is still a good story and if you can tell one, there’s absolutely room for that. I look at the stories I’ve written that have resonated with people and they have been, for the most part, stories I spent real time with. As someone covering a beat, it’s just harder to find the time to do those stories now because of the constant demands of the news cycle.

People like Wright Thompson, Seth Wickersham, Don Van Natta, Dan Wetzel, Mina Kimes, Charlie Pierce, S.L. Price, Lee Jenkins and Chris Jones, if they write something, I’m reading it. Maybe that’s because I’m a writer and in the business. But when I hear athletes mention Mina’s story on the Bennett Brothers on a conference call with Detroit media, it tells me there’s room for it. The quality of writing from a multitude of people has never been better in my opinion.

J.P.: I’m gonna throw a slider at you—why do you think so many athletes and entertainers have tattoos? Is it merely peer pressure? Does it have to do with ego? Is it just coincidence?

M.R.: I don’t have any tattoos and have personally never seen the appeal, so I’m not the best person to answer. But I’ve asked athletes about this before and for some, it’s about art. For others, it’s about remembering where they came from and carrying those people with them. I know plenty of non-athletes, like my brother, an EMT, who have a bunch of tattoos. He does it because he likes it, although it made for easy mocking when he got Left Shark on his arm after the Katy Perry Super Bowl halftime show. So really, I think it is more coincidence and personal preference.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 11.01.34 AM

J.P.: I feel like all journalists have a money story—that one crazy thing that happened on the job that will be your party go-to tale for decades. What’s yours?

M.R.: Oh man. There are a lot, including when I dressed up as a minor league baseball mascot named Wooly Bully, some epic road trips and forgetting what city I’m in. I’ve never really been threatened by an athlete or a coach or anything like that. But this one stands out, not for the actual incident but the prank pulled on me by Passan after. He’s still proud of it. I need to preface this by saying the parking lot on Michigan’s athletic campus has really poor sightlines when you’re pulling out of spaces.

When I was covering Michigan, the school had hired a new athletic director, Dave Brandon, who was the former CEO of Domino’s. On his first day on the job, I was pulling out of a space in the parking lot and he was driving his car through the lot. Through a combination of not being able to see him and being distracted by a tip I had gotten, we got into a fender bender. Luckily there was really no damage other than a scratch or two on either car, but not the best first impression you want to make.

Brandon was cool about it with me although word had quickly spread what had happened. The Michigan sports information directors had fun with it for a few weeks, as did my bosses, but the person who benefitted the most was Passan. Later that night, he called me from a blocked number pretending to be a personal injury lawyer representing Dave Brandon because he had heard about the fender bender.

Needless to say, I freaked out for about five minutes or so before I realized it was him. And Passan was good, getting me worked up and paranoid at the same time. He also taped the conversation and decided to send it to some of our friends. They sent it to some of their friends and, well, it spread pretty quick. One Michigan SID told me he still has it and listens to it a couple times a year. There are still times, six or so years later, when I get asked about it. It was one of my more gullible moments but a classic story.

J.P.: I think one thing young sports writers have to confront early in their careers is the intimidation factor—walking into a clubhouse and not being nervous. Did you have that at first? Did you need to tiptoe before you walked? How did you break it (if so)? And what advice would you give?

M.R.: I totally had that and it took a long time to get over. Every job I’ve had, those first few days or weeks there’s that sense of nervousness. That, to me, is part of any new situation. In every job I’ve had, I’ve definitely tiptoed first. It takes time to get to know people and a beat, so I think that’s OK. I often think of it as the early stages of dating – you’re nervous at first trying to get a feel of who the woman the other person who is a complete stranger, but eventually there’s a familiarity and comfort level. It took a little bit, but the nerves eventually go away.

My advice, especially for younger journalists, is do your research before you go into a locker room. I would look at rosters to see if there were any connections I had with guys in there, either if I had covered their school before or lived in their area of the country. Then I would use that as an icebreaker. It’s a way to both get them off of the conversation of football or basketball and into something else that immediately humanizes you and gets them to remember you. That’s better than rote questions players are asked over and over (and often get annoyed by). Otherwise, you’re just another nameless face. That’s not only a good initial locker room tool, but one that leads to better reporting and just becoming a better conversationalist in life.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 11.07.45 AM

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MICHAEL ROTHSTEIN:

• Three memories from your Bar Mitzvah: 1. There is, sadly, video evidence of this: I fell off the chair during the Hora. One of the dancers put her hand up for a high-five. I connected—and then fell on my butt on the floor in front of my dad. His face was priceless and for years, my brother would play it for whoever came over. My parents wanted to send it to America’s Funniest Home Videos, but they chose to save awkward 13-year-old me the embarrassment; 2. I was so bad at reading Hebrew and the different tropes that I only did four Aliyahs; 3. We had the centerpieces of my theme—movies—as decorations in our basement for years. I always loved acting—at least the concept of it—so it was something I wanted to do but have yet to try.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): owls, Haason Reddick, chicken soup, Taylor Dayne, The Notorious B.I.G., Marlon Brando, pastrami sandwich, “The Silence of the Lambs,” Billy Sims: Pastrami sandwich (on gluten free bread, because I’m celiac), The Silence of the Lambs, chicken soup, The Notorious B.I.G., Marlon Brando, Haason Reddick, Taylor Dayne, Billy Sims, owls.

• The world needs to know—what’s it like covering Zach Zenner?: He’s one of the more intriguing players I cover. He might be the smartest, too. He wants to go to med school after he’s done playing football and has done medical research during the last two offseasons, including during spring ball last year. Zenner’s just an honest dude who is very matter-of-fact with what he’s doing and his approach to everything. Most of all, he’s always willing to talk and is pleasant to deal with. As a beat writer, I’m appreciative of that.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes and no. I’ve never been close, thankfully, although there were a couple of times in prop planes where things didn’t seem to be going too well. I didn’t puke, but I definitely knew where the barf bag was. If I don’t fall asleep before the plane hits cruising altitude, I do get this split-second concern of ‘What’s going to happen here?’ I don’t have a fear of flying—I enjoy it, actually. But for a second it’s kind of like the last scene of the movie ‘Say Anything,’ when Diane Court and Lloyd Dobler are on the plane waiting for the seatbelt sign to go off. Once that happens, I feel much better about things.

• One question you would ask John Amos were he here right now?: ‘The West Wing’ is my all-time favorite television show—I’ve watched it through multiple times and am doing so again with listening to the West Wing Weekly podcast. Plus Aaron Sorkin is an inspiration to me as a writer, so I’d ask John Amos what it was like to be part of that cast as a recurring character working with Sorkin and Martin Sheen and how often did he try to ad-lib Sorkin’s dialogue?

• Five most talented football players you’ve ever covered?:  I’m going to restrict this to guys I actually covered as a beat instead of a one-off. Calvin JohnsonReggie BushNdamukong SuhD’Brickashaw FergusonDenard Robinson (in a close one over Matthew Stafford).

• In exactly 14 words, make a case for Garry Templeton, Hall of Famer:  Umm, a 16.2 career defensive WAR and an NL-best 211 hits in 1979.

• Three things we need to know about your childhood pet: 1. He was a white Westie named Magic, after Magic Johnson. I got him days before Magic announced he was HIV-positive. That was a devastating moment to 11-year-old me; 2. He was a friendly dog, although he mostly got attached to my dad because he was the one who walked him. He ended up living 15 years and I still miss him; 3. He helped me get over my fear of dogs. When I was in elementary school, a large dog chased me into the middle of North Jerusalem Road, a busy road in my town. While I was like Frogger around cars, the dog eventually tackled me. It left me scared of dogs for a few years until Magic. Now, I love dogs.

• How was your senior prom?: Not all that memorable. I went with Kristen Zbryski, who was a grade older than me, as friends. It was a good time, but getting close to 20 years ago. I more remember the boat ride around New York City after and the trip to Wildwood, New Jersey the couple days after that.

• What are the four words you way overuse?: Gluten, Meh, Literally, Worst

The ESPN carnage

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 10.12.44 AM

As many of you have likely heard by now, ESPN is firing people left and right today. And it’s heartbreaking.

This isn’t just ending the internship program, or cutting back on free coffee. This is the dismissal of some of the biggest and most-reputable names in journalism. Ed Werder. Paul Kuharsky. Jean-Jacques Taylor. Dana O’Neil. Mike Goodman. Mark Saxon. Brett McMurphy. Stephen A. Smith.

Oh, wait.

Stephen A. Smith was not fired. His $3.5 million-per-year salary is safe. And do you know why? Because he’s really good at yelling. And screaming. And shouting. And barking. And stewing. And making 20-second arguments over things he almost certainly doesn’t really care about. Which, of course, shouldn’t detract from his long and storied career as a reporter, where he befriended (and protected) players he liked and threatened those who dared challenge the Tao of Stephen A. Like, ahem, Kevin Durant.

But here’s the thing: This isn’t actually about Stephen A. Smith. It’s about the decline of good journalism and, sadly, the decline in the demand for good journalism. At some point in modern history, we (as a people) decided we prefer personalities and pizzazz over substance and detail. Our zest for a well-reported story has been overtaken by our zest for the mindless carnival barkings of hacks like Stephen A. and Skip Bayless.

This is not Stephen A. Smith’s fault. He realized long ago that reporting on Eric Snow’s sprained ankle wasn’t cutting it (just as Skip realized reporting on Troy Aikman’s non-homosexuality sexuality wasn’t cutting it). So he adapted to the times, surrendered his integrity card and went full-blown Ringling Bros. And it worked. He’s getting paid; he’s receiving the airport recognition he craves; he’s The Man—even if that status is flimsy, transparent and utterly void of substance.

Meanwhile, journalists (people employed to report, investigate, write) are discarded with ruthless and reckless abandon.

Don’t be fooled by ESPN’s upbeat statements of corporate adjustment. Don’t buy the inevitable “We’ll be a stronger company” baloney.

This is a shedding of quality.

This is an assault on the profession.

Robert Flores, ESPN and truth

Right about now, Robert Flores is—I’m guessing—in an office, staring down at the ground, wondering whether he’ll have a job tomorrow.

In case you missed it, earlier this morning the ESPN personality appeared on SportsCenter to offer his usual quirky take on the weekend’s weirdest, oddest, funniest, most unique moments. After going through a bunch of plays, he turned to Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who scored a touchdown against the Bills and then did this dance …

With Jay Crawford and Jaymee Sire looking on, Flores offered this: “If you’re wondering why there’s no letters to the editor, or why First Take isn’t doing, ‘Should Travis Kelce be dancing in the end zone …’ I wonder why they’re not doing that. Oh, because he’s not black—that’s probably what it is.”

Bam!

Crawford and Sire laughed awkwardly. Flores sorta smiled.

And then—it ended.

And then—Flores found himself in deep poop.

That’s just a guess, admittedly. But ESPN is ESPN, which means the network can’t help suspending/lambasting its employees whenever they dare comment controversially on anything outside of touchdowns/field goals/homers. It is, after all, a huge corporation; a conglomerate of myriad brands, labels, IDs. And while Flores’ take was spot-on and 100-percent correct, the higher-ups at the World Wide Leader know a huge number of its viewers are conservative sports nuts who support Ben Carson’s candidacy (“How cab I be racist? The guy I want to be president is negroid … um … colored … um … black!”), own a solid number of guns and want folks like Flores to smile, shut the fuck up about social issues and give us the results of Dodgers-Reds. Dammit.

I, for one, applaud Flores—a true talent who said what is too often unsaid: That there’s a ridiculous behavioral double standard in sports (and sports media) for white and black athletes. The white athletes are smart, hard working, dogged, farm-raised and bred on hard work. The black athletes are strong, fast, gifted, instinctive, surely from a single-family home with a hardscrabble background and a love of [FILL IN THE BLANK] rapper. When a white athlete dances, it’s funny; kooky. When a black athlete dances, he’s selfish and showboating.

So, yeah, Robert Flores, keep speaking the truth.

And, if ESPN lets you go, there’s always a place at jeffpearlman.com.

We pay in Roger Clemens biographies.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 4.16.56 PM

Molly Knight

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 4.16.56 PM

I’m a fan of authors.

This is nothing new, and actually has little to do with my career as, eh, an author. Truth is, dating back to my childhood I’ve always been fascinated by books, and the process, and taking enormous loads of information and piecing it all together into 300-or-so pages. It struck me as really hard yet really rewarding; nightmarish but euphoric. I’ve often equated the process to receiving a really awesome back scratch from someone with sharp fingernails. It’s painful as hell, but the sensations leave you soaring.

Hence, today’s Quaz.

Molly Knight is a writer. A prolific and explosive one. Her work for ESPN on the whole Frank McCourt-Dodgers-divorce-weirdness thing routinely soared from the page/screen, and also led her to writing The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse. Her debut book hit the market last week, and it’s a detailed, riveting inside look at baseball’s most fascinating franchise.

Molly lives in LA, and you can follow her on Twitter here and Instagram here. She loves her dog, but has little interest in Arthur Fonzarelli.

Molly Knight, welcome to the sports author’s club. You’re Quaz No. 216 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Molly, I’m gonna be sorta lame and start with this: Why a book about the modern-day Dodgers? I guess what I mean is, they haven’t won anything, they’re somewhat disappointing, some of their best players don’t seem overly demonstrative (of course, others do). So … why? When did you come up with the idea? What was the thinking behind it?

MOLLY KNIGHT: I grew up a Dodger fan in Los Angeles and was living in New York when the McCourts (the Dodgers former owners) began their divorce. I had been working for ESPN for a few years and I told my editors that because the McCourts were insane, the situation had the chance to go nuclear and become front page news. My bosses knew I had grown up a Dodger fan and was always pitching Dodger stories about Matt Kemp, so at first they kind of waved their hand at me like, “Yeah, yeah, another Dodger pitch from Molly.” But as soon as word leaked that the McCourts had hired a Russian physicist to think blue, I convinced my bosses to let me write 800 words on it. And then as it kept spiraling out of control and it became clear how much they had looted the Dodgers piggy bank for their own personal use while they cut spending on player salary, it became like this War of The Roses story and took on this whole other life. and my word allotment for the ESPN The Magazine story got longer and longer. I think it finally ran at like 6,000 words or something—my longest story ever at that point. I was 26 or 27, and just thrilled to have a piece that long run in a national magazine. Then ESPN sent me out to LA to cover the trial for the website. Everyone thought the McCourts would settle their divorce and not actually go to trial, though.

I remember flying out and thinking that I would have to turn around and fly right back. But they hated each other at that point too much to be rational. So the trial started and I was off and running. It was totally exhilarating to file stories every day—sometimes two or three a day—because I was used to spending weeks or months on longer form magazine stories. I think I must have written 100 stories on those two people and done twice as many radio hits. Then when it became clear that McCourt was going to be forced to sell the team, I basically moved in with my sister in West Hollywood and continued reporting. I got tired of paying New York rent when I wasn’t there—and I needed a change of scenery for a variety of personal reasons. So in March, 2011 I basically sent for my stuff and continued covering all the craziness around McCourt. Then when he sold the team for $2 billion to this really interesting guy from Chicago, I became even more intrigued. But it wasn’t until the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke, honestly, that I thought about writing a book. And it was because a few Dodger players who knew me texted and said “Shit. We were bankrupt and now we have Greinke and Kershaw and we’re going to win a title. You should write a book.” That’s what happened.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 3.16.09 PM

J.P.: The book opens with you in Clayton Kershaw’s home, and a very cool scene of him getting a huge contract. I kinda feel like access like that is rare nowadays; like very few reporters are being invited into the homes of stars. So how did that happen? How did you build that sort of trust with Clayton? And what’s he like as a guy to cover?

M.K.: Clayton is a wonderful person—the kind of man you would want your sister or your daughter to marry. Actually, a player joked with me the other day that he would let Clayton marry his wife. But he is also very guarded and closed off … especially to the media. It helped a little that I was around since when he got called up, so I was a familiar face. But honestly it took years to build his trust, and even then, I think he only really started to trust me after he saw guys he looked up to—guys like Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker and A.J. Ellis and Michael Young—were always chatting with me. Then I think he realized he could tell me things off the record that I would not report. He and I are very similar in a lot of ways—except for the whole best pitcher in the world thing—and I’m wondering if the reader picks up on that. We both had similar upbringings, and we both have dealt with anxiety and control issues. I know how he is wired because I am wired similarly, and sometimes it’s stressful for me to watch him pitch because I know how hard he is on himself.

When you’re writing a book about real people and thinking about them all day long it’s easy to develop emotional attachments to those you feel are kind and fundamentally enhance our planet. I almost threw up last year during Game 1 in the NLDS when he imploded. Partly because I wanted my book to have a championship ending, but also because I wanted so badly for him to put the previous year’s playoff debacle behind him. I felt awful for him; it was like watching someone else’s nightmare unfold in real time.

My being at his house when he signed his contract extension was one of the luckier things that has happened to me in this life, and a total fluke that I explain in the book. We just happened to have our interview set up for that day, and because he’s such a stand-up person he didn’t blow me off even though, literally, his agent called with the news roughly three minutes after I walked in the door. I guess I would call him a friend, in that I have grown to care about him as a person, but I don’t, like, go out for beers with him like I do with some of the other guys. He’s a new dad. I text him or e-mail him when I have a question about something I’m writing, and he is always gracious and tries to help. But it took a long time to build that relationship. He is a fantastic human and I’m honored to know him.

J.P.: Molly, I’m very big into career paths, but for the love of God I can’t really grasp yours. I see this (Molly Knight has written about baseball for ESPN The Magazine for the past eight seasons. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Glamour, and Variety. She lives in Los Angeles) everywhere, but I wanna know how this happened for you. Where are you from? When did you get the writing bug? Why baseball?

M.K.: I grew up in the suburbs of LA and went to college in the Bay area. I thought I wanted to be a doctor, so I earned a degree in biology, then changed my mind and moved to New York to write with no experience whatsoever, $300, and license from the National Bartenders School in Redwood City. To support myself while I sorted it out, I poured drinks and waited tables all over lower Manhattan for years while I wrote for free, sent clips everywhere, took any internship I could, before finally getting a shot to freelance at ESPN. I was very broke for a long time. I remember a month when I was 23 where I had no money in my checking account and my credit card was at its $2,000 limit and I could not really afford food so I just went to like, every PR-sponsored event there was just to eat. I’d get a press release for some violent video game that looked absolutely awful but I would go to the damn party because there would be food and beer. But I was 23 and having the time of my life so I didn’t care. I was fortunate enough to stop freelancing for places that never paid or paid five months after the fact, when ESPN started giving me more and more work. I supplemented that income with with bartending and waitressing, until they put me on contract in 2008. While I didn’t grow up dreaming of working for ESPN it turned out to be a dream job. I have always loved sports, and from the time I was 6 or 7 I would rattle off baseball players’ stats to anyone who would listen. I had a blast for the seven or so years I worked for them.

J.P.: You were with the Dodgers for the rise of Yasiel Puig. I was a Met fan when Dwight Gooden first came up, and it was just electric. And I always felt people outside of New York didn’t quite get the magnitude. Maybe it’s that way with Puig. So can you explain, as fully as possible, what it was like to behold his rise?

M.K.: It was, in a word, insane. He basically had the best rookie month of anyone since Joe DiMaggio, which was made even crazier by the fact that he had never heard of Joe DiMaggio. This is a guy who stood in front of a water cooler in spring training in total awe that Gatorade could be blue. He had only ever seen it in yellow. His month would have been bananas by any standard, but he was joining a team that was a) in last place and b) had just sold for $2 billion a year earlier and was supposed to be on the fast track to the World Series. The Dodgers not only had a bad record when he was called up, they were so wrecked by injuries that they were unwatchable. Five of the eight guys who started alongside Puig for his first game are no longer in the Majors. Don Mattingly was about to get fired. It was awful.

And then this kid comes up to the Big Leagues and not only does he hit the snot out of the ball but he plays the game like he’s got bumble bees in his pants. Baseball can be dull, but not with him. He made even routine plays seem exciting. And of course he came with a swagger that pissed everyone off because rookies are not supposed to have personalities. It took him a week to get hit in the face and incite a riot with the Diamondbacks.

The Dodgers went from being unwatchable to the most talked about team in baseball because of Puig. And the new owners whi were so desperate for stars to light up their new television network had a superstar. So they set about building their marketing campaign around a volatile kid who grew up in a country isolated from the rest of the world who overnight became a multimillionaire A-list athlete in Los Angeles who was worshiped and had access to everything. In a way it felt like what happens to Hollywood child stars. Too much, too soon. He wasn’t given rules or boundaries because he saved everyone’s job. And now no one can get him to listen to anything they say because they were bad parents in the beginning.

Molly Knight as a first grader

Molly Knight as a first grader

J.P.: I saw in one bio where you’re identified as a “lifelong Dodgers fan.” Do you still consider yourself a Dodgers fan? And do you feel like it’s OK for sports journalists to having rooting interests? Or a conflict? Or neither/both/all of the above?

M.K.: I grew up a diehard fan, and I don’t think I could have written this book without that context. Like if I went to go write a Yankee book I could read about their history but I wouldn’t have lived it. That being said, it’s not a if I can’t be critical of the team. When Frank McCourt ran the Dodgers into the ground and took the team into bankruptcy it felt like he was spitting on the graves of my ancestors.  He had to go, and as it became clear just how recklessly he was looting the franchise it only motivated me to report harder. It actually felt like important work; a group of us journalists covering him published the truth about his business dealings and kept hammering away until he was forced to sell.

I go back and forth. I want them to win but I don’t cheer in the press box. Sometimes, when they’re acting like jerks, I take a break from watching. That being said I’m a fifth generation Angeleno. I would like for my grandmother and my great aunts to see the Dodgers win another title in my lifetime, absolutely. I want some of the players I grew to really care about to win rings. They’re just human.

J.P.: I started covering baseball in the mid-1990s, when women were finally welcomed into the clubhouse, but there were still some dinosaur players who behaved like pigs. I’m wondering what it’s like now, in 2015, for you. Any incidents? Awkwardness? Or are all good?

M.K.: When I started out in locker rooms eight years ago it was very different than it is now. Some players were 10 to 15 years older than me, and it just seemed like there were a lot more red-asses, and guys who would try to embarrass me or put me in my place. When I started out I was just doing some menial, front-of-the-book stuff stuff for ESPN The Magazine, like getting answers for holiday gift guides or asking, “What’s in your wallet?” Most guys were and are respectful, but I would get the guys who would list their favorite sex toys when I asked what was on their holiday shopping list. And I’d write down the names of products I’d never heard of and they would all laugh.

The first baseball player I ever interviewed in a locker room was actually the worst. He wouldn’t even answer any of my questions; he just wanted to know what hotel I was staying in that night. I was worried that they were all going to be like that, but I just happened to run into the worst one.

But now it’s pretty much awesome. My first year in the locker room was the first year of a huge crop of Dodger rookies—Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Russell Martin. And while I’m not friends with all of those guys—and we haven’t always gotten along—none of them have ever been disrespectful, or dismissed me for being a woman, ever. So that was huge.

I don’t date professional athletes. I’m typically attracted to nerdy intellectuals, artists, writers, etc. From my perspective, if you are a female sports reporter who is serious about her career and reputation then you better be damn sure you are going to marry or enter into longterm domestic partnership with an athlete you date, because if you sleep with a guy on a team, literally everyone in the league will know about it within a week. I have seen it happen. Doesn’t matter if it’s the 25th guy on the worst team in the league. Everyone—from players to coaches to clubbies—will know. Baseball players are so bored and they have nothing but time on their hands to gossip about anything and everyone they can.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 11.37.52 PM

J.P.: I’ve written a bunch of books, but never one where I’ve embedded myself with a team. So, soup to nuts, what was your process? Like, how’d you handle notes? Interviews? Did you write as you went along or at the end? Did you find it awful, wonderful?

M.K.: Oh gosh. Well, it was awful and wonderful and terrifying and exciting and nerve-wracking all at once. I went to most games, so I took notes in my notebook every day. And then whenever I would freak out that my book was going to suck I would literally write down a list of all the things that I had learned so far that were funny/interesting/sad/ridiculous to reassure myself that even if my writing was awful that i had stuff that Dodger fans would find interesting. I taped a most of my interviews on an app on my iPhone, and there was a hellish moment during one of those iPhone updates where my phone restored itself to factory settings and I thought I had lost everything and I like, crawled to the Apple store and was sitting on the floor in there with no appointment waiting for someone to help me. I don’t really remember much about it except that I was very calm and sort of out-of-body and I explained to the boy genius helping me that if he couldn’t bring my phone back to life it was not his fault but my life would basically be over. The poor guy looked like he also wanted to throw up. But he fixed it and saved the day! After that I bought a back-up drive, and every single day I would save my work to my back-up drive and also e-mail whatever I had just written to myself to be safe.

I’d never written a book before, so I just started with 500 words a day. Then I bumped up to 1,000. The editing process was insane, because I only had eleven months to write and edit the thing. Originally the book was going to come out on Opening Day 2015 but then after the 2014 season ended the Dodgers fired their general manager and traded and ditched a bunch of my main characters. So I had to keep writing. Ultimately I decided to end the book on Opening Day with Matt Kemp facing Clayton Kershaw as a member of the Padres because it felt like everything had come full circle. Also, I was always so struck by how much Kemp and Kershaw had in common—as far as background—but they couldn’t be more different had no real relationship in all the years they were teammates. I had no idea how I would end this book but then when that happened it was like, that’s it. We sort of end on a new beginning. And it’s strange and sad and unknown but also hopeful, I think.

Um ... with Harry Styles

Um … with Harry Styles

J.P.: I’m fascinated by the little things with the book process. You named your book, “The Best Team Money Can Buy”—which is also the title of a 1978 bio of the New York Yankees. There also, “The Worst Team Money Can Buy,” about the mid-90s Mets. I’m not criticizing you. Hell, my Showtime Laker book is called, eh, “Showtime.” But how did you decide on the title? Do you have any say? Do you like it?

M.K.: That’s a great question. When I pitched this book, the working title was “The Best Team Money Could Buy,” with the idea that it was a placeholder until I would come up with something better. But the problem with coming up with the title of a baseball book is everything is so overdone and cliched. Try it. Anything dramatic with the word “Field” or “Game” or “Ball” is done in headlines every day. As time went on, I never did figure out anything better—and I actually started to like the title because it’s hopeful and also sort of smart-ass’y, which is maybe how I would describe myself. The real bitch was the subtitle, let me tell you. I think naming my children will be easier. I wanted a verb that described up-and-down seasons, but I did not want to use the word “rollercoaster” because it’s cliche. It had like eight different subtitles. For a while it was “the strange saga of the LA Dodgers” which I hated because it was vague and also sounded too negative—which I don’t think the book is, even though there are parts that are dramatic. My editor and I debated verbs for months, before deciding on “wild” at the last minute. I like that word and use it a lot in my everyday life, and it was important for the title to use language I use. “Struggle” balanced it out. I have a lot of friends in the Bay Area who thought that my title was literal, and were like “Well why are you calling the Dodgers the best team? Didn’t the Giants just win?” So “Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse” helps them realize it’s sort of tongue-in-cheek.

J.P.: What’s the greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

M.K.: Greatest: the day I got my finished book in the mail. Lowest: working for a men’s magazine and having to cull through the photos women would send in of themselves in various states of undress hoping to be selected for a “hot date” front of the book section. I was to call these women, many of them who were clearly damaged, and ask them to tell me things like, say, their wildest sex stories. I would literally go into a storage closet where there was a phone and act like I was calling them but put my hand on the dial tone lever. I was not good at that job and I did not last long. But being good at that job would have made me a person with no conscience so it evens out.

Authorship means perks like meeting Freddie Prinze, Jr.

Authorship means perks like meeting Freddie Prinze, Jr.

J.P.: We both wrote books involving Magic Johnson. Big difference—he never talked to me for mine. What’s your take on Magic Johnson, baseball team owner? Because I don’t 100 percent buy it. I think he’s smart, charismatic, popular. But do I believe he has much say in running the franchise? No. Am I off?

M.K.: He is smart and charismatic but he knows nothing about baseball. The good thing about Magic, though, is he seems smart enough to know there’s a lot he doesn’t know. He leaves the baseball stuff to the baseball people. He’s not one of those guys who will weigh in on everything regardless of his grasp on the subject, which I really respect. I didn’t get a sit-down interview with him for my book, but I also didn’t ask for one because he really isn’t that involved in the day-to-day running of the franchise. That being said he’s a freakishly competitive person who really wants to win everything he puts his name on. Some people don’t think he has much skin in the game here, but he put in, like $50 million of his own money into the team. By comparison, I think I read that Jay-Z only put $1 million into the Brooklyn Nets. So, yes, he wants the Dodgers to do well.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 3.10.38 PM

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MOLLY KNIGHT:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Roxette, Justin Wayne, Mark Ellis, Babyface, Einstein Bros Bagels, Josh Beckett, Los Angeles Times, Roger Angell, Marla Maples, Halle Berry, The Fonz, “Say Anything”: This is really hard–but here goes: Mark Ellis, Los Angeles Times, Roger Angell, Roxette, Halle Berry, Babyface, Einstein Bros Bagels, Josh Beckett, Say Anything— not my jam, The Fonz—Travolta was the hotter version of this in Grease, I don’t know who Marla Maples or Justin Wayne are.

• What’s the worst sentence you’ve ever written?: Oh, God. So many. Um. My editor would probably say the sentence I wrote where I compared Puig to a peacock and said that the dandruff from his feathers seemed to be rubbing off on the rest of the team. My editor is a very understated, even-keeled guy but I think he actually shrieked when he read it and he definitely crossed it out with exclamation points. It did not make the book. We never spoke of it again.

• We both live in California. I’m despondent about the drought. What the hell are we gonna do?: I don’t know. I see all these jerks in my neighborhood who run their sprinklers all day and I want to scream. The grass in front of our apartment building is dead and it looks so sad and depressing and I was going to bitch to my landlord about it because it’s the only dead grass on our block but given the drought we’re in I’m sort of going to treat it as a badge of honor. But more practically? The only way we are going to get people to start making better decisions to help save our planet is to hit them in their wallets. It would be great if those parking enforcement people who patrol the streets of West Hollywood every day also ticketed people who let their sprinklers run in to the gutter. We need to fine households that use the most water. We should also say that like, cities that start with the letters A-L can only water on Monday/Wednesday/Friday and M-Z can only water on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday. No one can water Sunday (or whatever day makes sense). And then we ticket the hell out of everyone who breaks these rules.

• How’d you land the name Molly?: I think my parents just liked it. But they thought I was a boy until I was born and were going to name me Michael.

• Three memories from your senior prom?: 1. We had our senior prom at the Disneyland hotel and 50 of us stayed in this suite that was the entire top floor of the hotel. It had a sauna and a gazebo and was so fun and we had a blast. My date was fantastic and there was no drama whatsoever; 2. Being on prom court with a bunch of other dorks, and being really glad my friend Kristi won prom queen because doing one of those wedding spotlight dances would have caused me to have a panic attack. I was not exactly the most confident teenager; 3. Not getting in trouble. After my junior prom I did not come home until 11 am the next day and got grounded for, like, six months. But it was totally not my fault.

• Five reasons one should attend Stanford over Harvard: 1. Weather; 2. Weather; 3. Weather; 4. Football; 5. Weather

• Would you rather drink a cup of Don Mattingly’s nasal hairs every week for a year or spend the next decade working as Kate Gosselin’s personal assistant?: Mattingly’s nasal hair.

• Five greatest sports journalists of your lifetime?: Could never pick five.

• Five nicest athletes you’ve covered? One biggest jerk?: I’m gonna go non-Dodger here. Nicest: Andre Iguodala, Derek Fisher, Raul Ibanez, Michael Cuddyer, Mike Sweeney. Biggest Jerk: Marion Barber.

• Can I borrow $5.65?: Sure.

Dear ESPN …

Stan and Neil: Make them stop, por favor.

Stan and Neil: Make them stop, por favor.

Dear ESPN:

It’s me—Jeff Pearlman. I’ve written for your website and I’ve appeared on many of your shows. I’m a longtime admirer and fan, and even when we disagreed, well, I’ve always come back.

I’m starting to waver.

I relocated from New York to Southern California six months ago. Upon arriving, I joined the nearby 24 Hour Fitness. It’s a lovely place, with (relatively) clean locker rooms and a basketball court and a pool and tons of equipment. The one drawback, though, is access to a mere four television networks while working out. One is Fox News—no way in hell. One is MSNBC—equal no way. One is a local affiliate with bad sitcoms. And one is—thankfully—ESPN.

This made me somewhat happy. I could work out, watch the highlights. OK. But then I came to learn of something quite horrible: As a late-night workout guy, I would be subjected to the late-night SportsCenter. And being subjected to the late-night SportsCenter means being subjected to (dear God) Neil Everett and Stan Verrett.

A most heinous day of reckoning it is …

To be clear, I believe both Neil and Stan are likely nice people with good intentions. But, ESPN, they are just brutal. Untalented? No. Uninformed? Certainly not. What irks me—and pretty much everyone I know who watches the duo—is the nonstop, eternal, tack-to-the-temple devotion to humor and quips and puns and cheap laughs. I mean, they can’t go five seconds without uttering a non-joke joke; some inside nonsense about a car or a bird or a prom date. It’s as if one took Chris Berman at his worst, mixed in a little Keith Olbermann at his worst, turned the speed up from 33 to 72 and tossed in a shitload of sugar and Cherry Coke. It’s nonstop, it’s grating, it’s fucking awful television.

Again, I don’t want anyone to lose a job. I just want them to stop. Please, please, please make them stop.

Because I really can’t watch Hannity.

Sincerely,

Jeff

photo by Brad Mangin.

Pedro Gomez

photo by Brad Mangin.

Pedro with Alex Rios (photo by Brad Mangin)

I’ve been writing for two decades, which means I’ve shared press box space with some of the best folks in the business and some of the worst folks in the business. For every Tyler Kepner or Steve Cannella (greats), there’s always a Mike Lupica (dick). For every Jemele Hill or Tom Verducci or Doug Glanville (terrifics), you’ll inevitably run into Skip Bayless (egomaniac).

Of all the highs and lows, cools and awfuls, few rival Pedro Gomez for pure kindness.

I first knew Pedro back in the late 1990s, when we both covered the Majors. But my true appreciation of the man came in the early 2000s, when I was researching a biography of Barry Bonds and Pedro was damned with the task of blanketing the moody San Francisco slugger for ESPN. It’s no exaggeration to say Pedro couldn’t have been more helpful and more friendly. He’s simply a decent man who doubles as one of the best TV reporters in sports. He’s honest, sincere, knowledgeable—and boasts the forever helpful newspaper background. The guy doesn’t just jabber. He reports.

Anyhow, today Pedro explains how a graduate of Miami-Dade Community College made it to ESPN; what it was like living and breathing Barry Bonds, and how Rickey Henderson may well be history’s strangest man. One can follow Pedro on Twitter here.

Now batting, Quaz No. 194, Pedro Gomez …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Pedro, we’re creeping toward a decade since ESPN created the Barry Bonds beat—and placed you on it. So I’ll start with this: What was that like? How hellish was the experience? And did you ever figure out—or theorize—why Bonds treated so many people like absolute grime?

PEDRO GOMEZ: It wasn’t nearly as bad as most on the outside envisioned, but maybe not for the reasons most realized. Yes, covering Bonds was not pleasant. He absolutely seemed to thrive on making me, and the other reporters, jump through hoops and make our lives difficult. But, as you know, the goal of any reporter is to be relevant. In this case, we were usually in the “A Blocks” of SportsCenter, meaning we were in the first seven- to eight-minutes of the show when ratings usually the highest. It certainly doesn’t mean he wasn’t an ass most days. As to why Bonds treated most everyone, including some teammates, so poorly, obviously only he can answer that question. My theory is that he enjoyed having the hammer, that he was so important that most everyone had to do what he wanted all the time. I think one of my favorite stories was when his “personal trainer,” Harvey Shields, was telling reporters about his résumé, how Harvey had trained Olympic athletes and made others into elite athletes. Suddenly, Bonds walked into the clubhouse and barked, “Harvey! Go get me a bottle of water.” Suddenly, Harvey went from talking about what an elite trainer he was, to scrambling through the clubhouse to fetch Bonds his bottle of water. And this was one of Barry’s guys. He just seemed enjoying humiliating people. Why? Only he knows. But he always seemed like a very lonely individual, someone who didn’t have any real friends.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 8.25.11 PM

J.P.: You’re the son of Cuban refugees, and you were born 20 days after they arrived in the U.S. I’m wondering—do you ever think to yourself, “What would my life have been had they not come here? What would have happened to me?” And, since we’re on this, what would your life had been? What would have happened to you?

P.G.: This is actually something I have often thought of, but not something I’ve really talked about with anyone. I’ve had the fortune of going to Cuba twice  with work, once in 1999 when the Orioles played in Cuba and again in 2008 when the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team was playing a World Cup qualifier against Cuba. The ’99 trip was incredibly emotional for me, I actually broke down inside my room at the old Havana Hilton thinking about how my family was basically forced to be displaced because of Fidel Castro’s communist government and the incredible hardships that presented my family. But I know they made the choice to leave because of the opportunities this country allows all of its people, something that seems lost these days. While there, I visited the neighborhood where my father grew up and my parents wound up living before they came to the US in 1962. Amazingly, there were still people in the neighborhood who remembered my family and could not believe I was the baby inside my pregnant mother when they left. It was an amazing experience. The old man who lived above them in their duplex who argued with my parents that I needed to be born in Cuba so I could make up my own mind of where I wanted to be, still was alive. When I reminded him of that story, he simply said, “well, it looks like things worked out well for you.” I truly have no idea what would have become of me, but I do know, having visited twice, my life would never have turned out as well as it has in the US. I know from seeing how people live in Cuba, that I would have been pigeon-holed into some meaningless job where I could draw my $21 or so a month in government subsidies.

J.P.: We live in this stupid hyper-competitive world, where every parent seems to be pushing his/her kid toward greatness. Extra tutoring! Extra coaching! My son needs Harvard! My daughter needs Yale! Um, you attended Miami-Dade Community College. So how did you make it? And is there something to be said for life experience and struggling over Ivy degrees and nonstop help?

P.G.: I’m a huge believer in inner drive and passion. Too many times passion gets a bad rap. What is wrong with being passionate? You always hear people say, “Oh that person is too hot-headed or too passionate.” I say, give me passion over the dead fish syndrome. Of course education is important. But where the degree comes from does not dictate what you’re capable of. Maybe it’s the first generation American in me, but give me hard worker who wants it over the Silver Spooner who believes he’s entitled.

Back in 2013, Pedro got doused in the Tigers clubhouse after Game 5 of the ALDS in Oakland.

Back in 2013, Pedro got doused in the Tigers clubhouse after Game 5 of the ALDS in Oakland.

J.P.: You covered the Oakland A’s for the Mercury News and Sacramento Bee. Which forces me to ask: Can you explain Rickey Henderson to me? What was he like to cover? I always thought he was either really smart or really dumb—but I couldn’t figure out which.

P.G.: It was an amazing experience. Those A’s—with Rickey, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley, Hendu [Dave Henderson], Tony La Russa—made it like we were traveling with The Stones. Every city, you could see the opposing fans in awe of the incredible talent the A’s had compiled. Then, in talking with opposing players, you definitely got the sense that other players were jealous of what the A’s were accomplishing. After all, they averaged more than 100 wins for three straight years. They were so big, physically, that they seemed to intimidate other teams. It was as if they had won two games before a three-game series even began. As for Rickey, I’d say both of those descriptions are appropriate. Street Smarts, he is a PhD. Nothing gets by him when it comes to real-life common sense. But simple things, like knowing his teammates names? Well, not so much. One time he was upset with his contract—yeah, I know, what a shock—and he told us reporters, “If they want to pay me like Mike ‘Gah-LEE-go’ then I’ll play like Mike Gah-LEE-go.” Of course, it’s Gallego, as in “Gah-YEH-go,” who had been a teammate for years. When we then told Gallego of the quote, Mike laughed and said, “I’m just glad he kind of knew my name.” I’ve heard Rickey has been extremely smart with his money, as in he has every bit he’s ever made because he’s been so smart investing his money.

J.P.: When I was covering the game, I often felt American writers looked down upon Latin American players. You’d hear about shit work habits, laziness, a lack of heart. I figured it was either resentment over not being able to do lengthy interviews without a translator, or just xenophobia. You’re the son of Cuban immigrants. You (I’m guessing) speak Spanish. Is my take off? On? And why do you think the perceptions existed/exist?

P.G.: I do speak Spanish, fluently. It’s probably been what has helped me most in my career. And yes, I have heard those criticisms and they could not be more off base. If any of these journalists had an inkling of what most of these players have gone through to simply reach this level, they’d start to understand the amount of hard work and incredible sacrifice it took for these players to reach the big leagues, they would start to understand the human will to succeed is never more evident than what so many of these Latin players have demonstrated.

J.P.: You left print for ESPN in 2003, and I’m sure—at the time—I thought, “Ugh, another print sellout.” But, well, you were right. And smart. And ahead of the curve. So why’d you make the jump? Did you see the decline of print happening? And what made ESPN think of you as a guy to do TV? How hard of a decision was it for you?

P.G.: I wish I could tell you that my crystal ball was that good. I simply got lucky. I answered the phone. I truly wish I had some sexy story to tell when it comes to how I made the jump from print to TV. It’s really anything but. I was at home one day and a call came from a coordinating producer, David Brofsky, who asked if I would be interested in coming for an interview. My immediate response was, you know I’ve never really done much TV work, right? He said, look at our reporters, most of them come from print. And it’s true, Tim Kurkjian, Sal Paolantonio, Ed Werder, Shelley Smith, Buster Olney, Rachel Nichols, etc. They all came from print. It wasn’t an easy decision because I was really happy at the Arizona Republic. My initial thought was, I’ll give this TV thing a shot and if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just jump back to print. That was 2003 and things quickly began spiraling downward on the print front. Almost 12 years later, it’s been the best move I have ever made professionally.

J.P.: You covered Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire with the A’s. What were those two like to deal with? Did they hate one another, as it seems? Were they approachable? And did you suspect PED usage back in the day?

P.G.: Hate is a pretty strong word. I would not say they hated each other, nor did they dislike each other. They were indifferent toward each other. They really had very little in common. Think about it, one was a Southern Californian who grew up with the laid-back attitude that many from the Los Angeles area did, just wanting to hang out. Canseco I knew a little bit more about since he and I both went to Coral Park High at the same time (I was one year older). He came from the hustle and bustle of the Cuban-side of Miami, the fast cars, fast girls and putting very little effort into school work. Jose was an incredibly talented baseball player but he had trouble with authority. He was on the junior varsity as an 11th grader because of insubordination toward the varsity coach. McGwire and Canseco simply had nothing in common when it came to hanging out after games so as much as the public wanted the “Bash Brothers” to be inseparable because the story on the field had them joined at the hip, the reality is they never hung out together because there was nothing bringing them together. Each was definitely approachable, but like most baseball stars, they were far more approachable if they recognized the inquisitor. If they did not, I know each could be standoffish. As for suspecting PED use, I’m not sure any of us covering in the late 1980s or early 1990s really thought of PEDs in baseball. It just wasn’t something that most anyone inside the game believed had trickled into baseball. That was something for Olympic-type sports or football, but never baseball. We were obviously very wrong about that aspect.

J.P.: You covered Bonds when he broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. I’m wondering how you felt when it happened? Sad? Excited? And do you consider Bonds the legit all-time home run king?

P.G.: No way I consider Bonds the all-time home run king and I know I’m not alone in that belief. I was there that night when it happened and it really was a sense of indifference. There was little joy that crashed over the event. I remember as a 10-year-old watching Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s record on the old Monday Night Baseball and the sense that we were watching an amazing slice of history. That is not something I sensed, even from Bonds sycophants and apologists, and I was inside the stadium for Bonds. The overarching ties that Bonds had to PED-use suffocated his accomplishments. I would say I was indifferent toward Bonds passing Aaron.

With Theo Epstein

With Theo Epstein

 J.P.: Why journalism? Like, what drove you toward the field? When did you know it’s what you wanted to do? Was there a moment? A high?

P.G.: I took a J-101 course as an elective while at Miami-Dade South Community College and immediately thought, “This could work for me.” I was never a great academic student, but once I found something that truly grabbed my attention, I dove in head-first. I had a great instructor, Pete Townsend, who really brought out the best in me and showed me how I could outlast everyone on the field as a guy off the field covering the athletes. Best elective course I could ever have dreamed of taking and why electives in college are so important. You never know what you’ll learn about yourself.

J.P.: Bob Ley was Quazed last year, and he spoke of the “red light fever” that accompanies television work. The ego. The buzz. You’re walking through an airport and someone recognizes you. You sign autographs at a ballpark. Be honest: Has this impacted you at all? Is the notoriety something you feed off of at all? Do you understand how it can warp people?

P.G.: It has definitely happened to me and every time I am shocked anyone would want my autograph. But I always oblige. I honestly believe it has not affected me (though I could be wrong). I am of the belief that if you have no ego, then there is nothing there to pop. You cannot pop an empty balloon. It has, however, impacted my life because there are times when my wife and I will suddenly be moved to the front of the list at a restaurant (if there is a wait). She’s always amazed at this also, but adds, “Sometimes it’s good to know Pedro Gomez.”  Having said that, I absolutely understand how some people might be warped and affected by the attention. People are amazed with people they see on television or the movies. For those that are grounded, I don’t believe you will fall into the trappings.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.03.24 PM

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH PEDRO GOMEZ:

• The world needs to know: What was it like covering Lance Blankenship?: Funny you should mention Lance. Despite attending Cal-Berkeley he never struck me as a particularly deep thinker. Very nice guy, though. But he did hold a distinction on those great A’s clubs. He was always one of the guys who was inserted into the lineup when Oakland was playing against Seattle and Randy Johnson was on the mound. You know the guys who suddenly had a tight hammy or sinus headache on days Randy pitched against them? I don’t have the exact number, but I remember Lance breaking up at least two, maybe three, Johnson no-hitters after the seventh inning. Maybe it was because he really didn’t think about who he was facing.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Stan Javier, Dr. Oz, Malik Yoba, Jeffrey Osborne, Khloe Kardashian, Jay Horwitz, Pete Berg, wedding rings, Kangchenjunga, corn on the cob, alphabet soup, knee-high socks: Not exactly sure how you knew, but a few of these strike a chord near me. 1. Stan Javier (good friend); 2. Wedding rings (been wearing one 23-plus years); 3. Corn on the cob (have to eat it like a typewriter, across. Not around); 4. Knee-high socks (all I use when I wear suits. I hate the below the calf ones); 5. Jeffrey Osborne (we used We’re Going All the Way as our wedding song); 6. Jay Horwitz; 7. Alphabet soup; 8. Kangchenjunga; 9. Dr. Oz; 10. Malik Yoba; 11. Pete Berg; 12. Khloe Kardashian

• In exactly 15 words, make an argument for or against Advil instead of aspirin: I’m old school, give me aspirin.  It’s like newspapers. It works. It really does. Yep!

• Do you think the iPhone has made us better or worse communicators?: Far worse. Sit an airport gate and watch a woman and her husband, or a family. Everyone is on their phone but no one is speaking to each other.

• Five nicest ballplayers you’ve ever covered: (In no specific order) Matt Herges, Jaime Navarro, Dave Stewart, Terry Steinbach, Reggie Sanders. And I’m definitely leaving dozens of names off the list.

• What song would you pick to walk up to the plate?: You Can’t Always Get What You Want (but if you try sometimes, you’ll get what you need).

• Greatest moment of your athletic career?: I wasn’t a great high school athlete, but after high school me and some of my best friends started playing softball in Miami. I was a third baseman with a nice inside-out swing, always hitting these opposite field dunk shots down the right field line. We won a few tournaments and I was named MVP of a tourney when I, at least in my mind, played like Brooks Robinson at third.  Still have the MVP windbreaker they gave me.

• Biggest mistake you’ve made as a journalist?: Going back to the early 1990s, not being aware of PED use within baseball. I guess you could say the evidence was somewhat there, but we were just so naïve when it came to believing it had or could infiltrate baseball.

• Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay $5 million for you to be her publicist next year. But you have to work 364 days, shave your hair into a Mohawk and legally change your middle name to Fuckface. You in?: No way I could listen to that Titanic song more than twice without probably going postal.

• I have no faith in God. Does this mean I’m likely damned to hell?: I certainly hope not. But if you are, then the first round is on me because I’ll be right there next to you.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.43.00 AM

Rob King

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.43.00 AM

I believe in the magic of Facebook.

Well, maybe not the magic. But the healing and redemptive powers. The ability to bridge gaps.

The reason—Rob King.

A couple of years ago, I really disliked Rob. Did I know him personally? Eh, no. But back when I was a columnist for ESPN.com, Rob was in charge of the entity. Toward the end of my gig (it was freelance, and I stopped for a reason I can’t actually remember), the website agreed to run an excerpt from my forthcoming Roger Clemens biography. I was psyched, thrilled, euphoric. Then, because I am actually quite stupid, I wrote a post on this blog listing 10 things I disliked about ESPN. It was merely a flip entry. No good reason. Just … because.

Anyhow, the day before the excerpt was scheduled to run, an ESPN.com editor told me that Rob—upset over my blog post—changed his mind. Goodbye Roger Clemens material. Farewell, direct link from ESPN.com to Amazon.

Man, was I pissed. P-I-S-S-E-D. I ripped Rob to my friends and family members; swore off ESPN and … and … and …

I was wrong. Like, not even close to being right. You don’t ask for a favor, then slam the favor giver. It was stupid and short-sighted and—via, Facebook, months and months later—I acknowledged to Rob that he was correct and I was a toad. And, with that, we became Facebook chums.

Rob and I chat from time to time, and he’s great people. He’s also had a tremendous career, rising from newspaper obscurity to the head and overseer of SportsCenter. Here, Rob talks Stuart Scott, The Network and why, in a digital age, ESPN’s signature show still matters.

Rob King, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Before we really get into this, Rob, I’d love to know—with his recent passing—how will you remember Stuart Scott?

ROB KING: A ferociously proud father. A trailblazer. A relentlessly competitive athlete. A kind, generous, courageous man who embraced new friends, cherished old friends and understood our profound responsibility to show humanity to one another.

How will I remember Stuart Scott? Every day. Every single day.

J.P.: OK, Rob, so earlier this year you were named the Senior Vice President, SportsCenter and News, jumping over from digital and news. My question is this: Does SportsCenter still matter and—even if the answer is yes—how can it continue to matter? What I mean is—we have access to information at all times. Smart phone, tablet, laptop—whatever. We don’t need to wait for a broadcast to deliver information. So how do you keep a popular program rolling when, it seems, we don’t really need a popular program?

R.K.: Here’s a shocker: I think SportsCenter still matters! More important, by orders of measure: fans think SportsCenter matters.

It matters because the very idea of SportsCenter has always centered on more than just being “a popular show.” SportsCenter is a promise to fans. Wherever, whenever something happens in the world of sports, our team is driven to serve fans with the very best information, perspective and original content.

We bust it to produce engaging, unforgettable television, but we also expend the same energy to provide that level of service across digital-native environments: social platforms, mobile screens, etc.  And fans hold us to that promise, believe me. My TweetDeck dashboard includes a channel that monitors activity around “@SportsCenter.” Everything we put on air and every piece of content we post online or on our social handles generate immense feedback, positive and negative.

In the end, SportsCenter has a unique and cherished place in the hearts and minds of sports fans. We view this as our dearest possession and our greatest responsibility.

With Tallulah.

With Tallulah.

J.P.: I recently moved to California, and I’m at the gym during the late-night SportsCenter. The two anchors are usually Stan and Neil and—just being honest—they sorta irk me. Actually, lemme rephrase. They don’t irk me. They seem like nice, fun guys. But the schtick irks me. Constant jokes, comments, laughs, catch phrases. Dammit, I just wanna know what happened. My question is: What’s the line between delivering sports news and making it sports news/entertainment?

R.K.: Wait a sec! Your first question just got through explaining that you already know what happened.

Truth is, we’re charged with serving an array of sports fans. Avid fans know much of the news of the day, but still enjoy interacting with the informed perspective and unique personalities on our shows. Casual fans may or may not know every headline or each new development. Some fans receive mobile alerts or see highlight clips shortly after plays happen. Others have heard about the play, or have seen a version of the clip but want to know a little more about the context of the action.

Our anchors accept the challenge of serving the diverse needs of the audience, and they do it with a mixture of authority, humor, and curiosity. Yes, there’s an important level of utility to what SportsCenter provides—scores and highlights, as fast and as complete as possible. But the other imperative—wonder—shouldn’t be ignored. Not only do fans what to know what happened, they also want to know what might happen, or how something happened, or what’s likely to happen next. And because sports routinely delivers an Odell Beckham Jr. catch or a Russell Westbrook lane attack, fans also want to connect with people – our anchors and analysts – who are every bit as excited about these moments as they are.

By the way, you and I see Stan Verrett and Neil Everett very differently. I think they’re amazing. And man, they work hard at what they do.

J.P.: You and I are both print guys. We started at newspapers, worked at newspapers for a long time. I wonder how you feel about the death of print. When you hear of newspapers folding and staffs being cut back and six-page sections, does your heart break? Or do you simply see it as an inevitable transition?

R.K.: So let me go “silver-lining” first. There’s more writing and more reading being done out there than ever before. So when we talk about the death of print, we’re really just talking about a particular form of distribution of the written word. Writers and editors matter and will continue to do so, it says here.

But yes, my heart does break when I hear of the gradual dissolution of newspaper and magazine newsrooms. So many friends have moved away from journalism and storytelling, and that’s an incalculable loss to society, to culture, even to fair, responsible government.

I also ache for those who are attempting to re-imagine the business model against a backdrop of breathtaking volatility. Change may be inevitable, but transition is far too genteel a term for what’s going on these days.

As you know, a hallmark of the business—lousy hours and so-so pay aside—was that it was fun, and you always went to work hopeful to discover a new story or publish something fascinating. I hate watching the hope seep out of newsrooms.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.44.25 AM

J.P.: It’s no secret that, in big-time televised sports involving male athletes, women seem to have a marginal role: Perky sideline reporters. Often blonde, often young, often charged with asking a couple of lame questions. Rob, why do you think women aren’t doing play by play or color commentary? Certainly there are women in media who are more than qualified, no?

R.K.: I’m proud to work at a place that has recognized the play-by-play talent of folks like Doris Burke, Beth Mowins and Cara Capuano. Lisa Salters, Julie Foudy and Maria Taylor are unique performers who report with creativity, tenacity and fairness. Across our networks, whip-smart journalists such as Jemele Hill, Heather Dinich, Kate Fagan and Jane McManus are constantly redefining the “margins” within which women can perform.

It’s an honor to have Hannah Storm, Linda Cohn, Suzy Kolber and Chris McKendry—trailblazers who have excelled in each of the roles you mention above – as colleagues and mentors to everyone in our shop.

I don’t mean to duck your question, because its basic premise—that we have miles to go before we can claim true equal opportunity—is one I wholeheartedly agree with. I would simply be remiss if I didn’t point out that our company is committed to leading this necessary change. An important part of that commitment is empowering women in decision-making roles, and that’s an enormous priority across all of ESPN.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t say that blonde hair isn’t a sin, and it doesn’t signal uniformity of intellect. Holly Rowe, Sam Ponder and Britt McHenry are hardly the same people, but each is experienced, talented, informed and essential to our mission.

J.P.: I know you attended Wesleyan and Penn State, know you started at the Commercial-News in Danville, Illinois. But … what’s your path? What I mean is, why journalism? When did you know? What was the bug? The moment? The incident that made you realize, “This is what I want to do with my life?”

R.K.: All I ever wanted to be was a cartoonist. That’s it. You know that Malcolm Gladwell theory about the 10,000 hours? Well, that’s how I spent mine, from the time I was about 4 or 5 until I hung up my brush and pen in 1997. I copied comic book art, swiped “How-to-Draw” books from libraries, won book fair poster contests and pored over newspaper comic strips.

In seventh grade, I read an article about famed St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial cartoonist Bill Maudlin and thought, “That’s it. That’s what I’ll be.” I joined the junior high newsletter and the yearbook committee and began my career.

When I got to Wesleyan, my plan was to major in government and minor in art. I did neither, choosing instead to major in English and waste time clinging to the edge of the men’s basketball team’s bench. When I graduated without a portfolio or an NBA contract, I returned to the ignominy of my parents’ house. Luckily, I got a job sorting mail at the Washington Post, where Ben Bradlee strode the hallways and Herblock, the Post’s legendary editorial cartoonist, took me in as a mentee. The Post newsroom immediately felt like home. On occasional Sundays, Bob Woodward would ask me to accompany him to Baskin-Robbins, where he’d buy ice cream for everybody in the office. Herblock demanded that I draw a cartoon a day and bring it to him each day to review.

So that’s where I first fell in love with newspapers and journalism.

I managed to sell several cartoons at the Post, lucked into a one-year university fellowship at Penn State, and took the first gig that would let me be a cartoonist—in Danville, Illinois. I didn’t pay much attention to the job offer apparently, because once I arrived at the 27,000-circulation paper, I learned that I was also an assignment reporter and a graphic artist, too.

After a year, two weeks and three days in Danville (not that I was counting), I moved on to Gannett newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J. and Louisville. Both places let me do cartoons, including a daily comic strip called “The Family Business.” The strip lasted six years and earned me zero dollars, as both newspapers also required that I also perform real work in the design and photo departments.

The work apart from cartooning introduced me to two new passions: storytelling and working with people. Cartoonists are solitary performers, especially in collegial settings like a newsroom. I found that I’m happier and more productive when I’m part of a team. And writing and editing—key cartooning skills, as it happens—have never felt like actual work.

I “retired” from cartooning when my wife and I moved back east to be closer to family. Again, I lucked into a sports designer role at the Philadelphia Inquirer, which turned into bigger assignments over the ensuing seven years. I left visual journalism for sports in 1998, taking on a deputy sports editor job that had one unforgettable perk: meeting and befriending one Stephen A. Smith. That’s right, I admit it.

I departed the Inquirer as deputy managing editor and joined ESPN, plunging headlong into sports TV in 2004. After three years in studio production, featuring work with Outside the Lines, ESPNews and our golf and NBA studio shows, I moved to ESPN.com as its editor-in-chief. The next six years were a Digital/Print blur that introduced me to a redesign of the web site, oversight of ESPN The Magazine, espnW and the Local sites and a host of product developments.

And now I’m back in studio production, working in an environment where storytelling and teamwork and visual creativity are the lingua franca. Looking back, it almost feels as though there was something of a path. Let’s pretend there was.

J.P.: Serious question—why do we continue to place former athletes in the TV both? With v-e-r-y rare exception, they never add any genuine insight, and oftentimes they speak in clichés and nonsense drivel. I know you’re gonna disagree, but am I REALLY wrong? Are Ray Lewis and Trent Dilfer telling me anything a guy who’s watched tons of football can’t?

R.K.: Yep, I disagree. Trent Dilfer’s breadth of knowledge of how to play the QB position is astonishing, if you ask me. Trevor Matich teaches a master class every time he talks. Cris Carter has been amazing all season long. And I have never heard Tom Jackson offer anything but passionate, genuine, heartfelt insight. I can think of dozens of others, including newer performers like Kara Lawson, Danny Kannell, Taylor Twellman and Brian Griese , who have made a huge difference in our shows. Dag, I forgot Jay Bilas! Curt Schilling! Jalen Rose!

Argh, this question got me all aggravated. Next question!

J.P.: I used to work at Sports Illustrated, and there were, literally, two African-Americans on staff, I mean, it was pathetic—we’re covering fields that are heavily minority represented, yet we didn’t reflect that demographic at all. I’m wondering, as an African-American man, if you’re satisfied with diversity in the sports media. Do you feel like enough strides have been made? Is there still resistance? And have you ever felt, throughout your career, that employers or co-workers viewed you with skepticism or limited respect because of race?

R.K.: The answer here mirrors the earlier discussion about women in sports media. No, much more can be done, and yes, resistance exists in pockets. Happily, at every level at ESPN and across the Disney Company, we’ve embraced Diversity and Inclusion as a core company value. This isn’t just about numbers, it’s about opportunity and education and smart business. It’s about getting the very best out of people. To your point, it’s about positioning ourselves to be reflective of the audience we’re trying to serve.

And yeah, I have encountered skepticism throughout my career. My parents worked hard to prepare my siblings and me for this as we grew up. They emphasized the importance of integrity and intelligence and being willing to burn the last drop of midnight oil. They also emphasized that this wasn’t just about us. It’s also about respecting the sacrifices they and others made for us. And it’s about honoring the colleagues in our current workplaces and the generations to come.

My daughter is the LeBron James of 7-year-old West Hartford, CT soccer, and she deserves a career in sports if she wants one. With that at stake, I can withstand a little skepticism.

J.P.: Do you ever feel dizzy? It just seems like everything in the business changes every five seconds. It’s all about websites! No, Twitter! No, tablets! We need shorter articles! No, we need longer articles! How do you keep up? And how do you know what’s around the corner? Is it even possible to know?

R.K.: Change isn’t a problem in our world, it is our world. Audiences have changing expectations. Technology continually offers solutions to new problems. Consumption of content is constant. So is production. We aren’t going backward, so we may as well buckle up. I think it’s exciting to ask how we should tell stories in a world in which more than half of our audience will a) view them on a tiny screen, b) discover them on a social feed, or c) try to consume the content while in transit, bringing inconsistent mobile data speeds into play.

Earlier, I talked about folks who are attempting to reimagine the business model against a backdrop of breathtaking volatility. Well, that isn’t just the duty of business types. We content folks share that same responsibility.  We should be energized by bold attempts to attack these problems, like Medium and BuzzFeed and Vox. And we need to join in.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.43.51 AM

J.P.: Back in 2010 I released a Roger Clemens biography, “The Rocket that Fell to Earth.” You were heading ESPN.com at the time, and the site was going to run an excerpt. Then, a few days beforehand, I wrote a blog post (Top 10 Things That Irk Me About ESPN), and you decided not to run the excerpt. I was bitter at the time—genuinely bitter. I mean, I’d spent the preview two years writing regularly for the site. But, when I really reflected, I understood it was a stupid move on my part—don’t shit on someone doing you a favor. This is my lead in to a long question—how protective are you of ESPN? How important is it to you to defend the company? Its integrity? Its name? Because, lord knows, ESPN gets slammed all the time …

R.K.: ESPN is an amazing place, full of incredible, passionate professionals who love sports and love serving sports fans. I am so grateful to be here. And so, yes, I’m protective of the brand.

But I’m especially protective of our people. As you know, what we do is hard, Jeff. Working here means working day and night, holidays and weekends, pre-game, in-game and post-game. Everywhere I look, I see someone with his or head buried in a screen, busting to get the subject and verb right, to cut the perfect highlight, to surface an amazing stat, to create something fans will never forget.

Our people deserve to believe that their integrity and commitment to excellence is worthy of protection … especially from unwarranted criticism.

Having said all that, I’m personally glad that you and I went from where we were in 2010 to where we are now, especially since it led to our publishing an excerpt from your book on the Showtime era of the Los Angeles Lakers. Being protective doesn’t mean being vindictive, particularly where it might keep a great piece of writing from fans.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.42.00 AM

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ROB KING:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Danville Dans, Reggie Jefferson, Karate Kid II, Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda, Central Park, Toledo, blueberry muffins, the Nike campus, neck tattoos, dimples, Maggie Gyllenhaal: Central Park, Nike campus (never been but oh would I love to), Danville Dans, dimples, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda, Reggie Jefferson, Toledo, blueberry muffins, neck tattoos, Karate Kid II.

• In exactly 15 words, make an argument for or against Tim Raines as a Hall of Famer: Better all-around Expo than Andre Dawson and Gary Carter. And they’re already in The Hall.

• How did you propose to Jennifer?: We met in a Philly tavern/restaurant called The Rose Tattoo, where she was waiting tables. Five years later, as she got off her shift, I got down on one knee right at the very spot we met. We were living together at the time, so a “No” would have been awkward.

• As I write this, someone is spreading strawberry cream cheese on a bagel. This just seems wrong. Thoughts?: Live and let live weirdly.

 • How did you find out Santa Claus wasn’t real?: Wait, what?

• Five reasons one should make Bristol, Conn. his/her home?: I live 20 minutes away, so the only answer I’m really qualified to give is “proximity to the office.”

• What’s the greatest moment of your youth sports career?: Two homer, two double, all-star game MVP performance in the Montgomery County, Md. fourth-grade Cub Scout softball league. And a trip to McDonald’s after. All downhill from there.

This is my favorite TV moment in history. Your thoughts?: That’s tough to beat. Gives a whole new meaning to a “mean tweet.”

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and a one-armed Ray Lewis? What’s the result?: The bell rings, Ray charges and I soil my trunks. Ref stops the match right there.

• Five greatest sports journalists of your lifetime?: In alphabetical order: Richard Ben Cramer, David Halberstam, Gary Smith, Wright Thompson, Ralph Wiley

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 3.39.55 PM

Britt McHenry

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 10.36.30 PM

ESPN is a striking entity to behold.

It’s a place where television stars are made; where names go from regional obscurity to national recognition. Chris Berman. Stuart Scott, Dan Patrick. Rich Eisen. Robin Roberts. Kenny Mayne. Linda Cohn. Whether you like these people or abhor these people, you almost certainly know these people. Their stylings. Their catchphrases. Their high and low TV moments.

You know them.

Just being honest … I’m not sure how many people reading this know Britt McHenry just yet. Yeah, she’s got 65,200 Twitter followers and 19,200 more on Instagram. But, at age 28, she only arrived at the network in March, and seems to randomly pop up here and there. This game. That locker room. This moment. That moment.

The relative obscurity won’t last.

Why? Because McHenry is very good at her job. She asks strong questions, without merely nodding robot-like at the answers. She follows up. She insists she’s not in this for fame or endorsement, but because she loves sports and loves journalism. Her pedigree (Stetson University soccer player; Northwestern masters in journalism) backs it up.

Anyhow, I love the idea of having rising stars explain how, exactly, they became rising stars.

The Quaz welcomes Britt McHenry …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Britt, I’m gonna start with a totally weird question. My daughter is 11, and r-e-a-l-l-y tall. You’re 5-foot-10—also really tall. How was that for you as a kid, being taller than boys? Being—I’m guessing—the “gangly, skinny, long girl”? Did you have to grow into your height? Were you always happy being tall?

BRITT MCHENRY: I played a lot of sports as kid, predominantly soccer. Ironically, I was the shortest on every roster for a long time. Coaches used to call me “Little Brittany” when I was your daughter’s age. I absolutely hated it and would cry to my parents about it weekly. My dad is 6’3 and my mother is 5’7, so they constantly reassured me that I wouldn’t be vertically challenged. Turns out they were right. In seventh grade, I grew 6 inches. Yes, 6 inches. The following year, I grew another three. I was skinny, gawky, and had big feet before I grew into them; oh, and don’t forget the braces. It was a really attractive time in my life.

Now, I love being tall. It benefited me in athletics and afforded me an opportunity to work with the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency in college. Thanks to Wilhelmina, I never had to work another day at the T-Shirt and Sandal Factory Outlet in Key Largo or enlist in another real “character building” summer job, much to my parent’s chagrin. Tell your daughter height pays off.

McHenry, left, during her college soccer days.

McHenry, left, during her college soccer days.

 J.P.: You’ve had a crazy fast rise—you’re 28, holding a prime position at ESPN. So … how the hell did this happen? I mean, I know you’re a New Jersey kid, know you played college soccer at Stetson. But I’m sure many aspiring TV journalists would love to hear the path.

B.M.: Honestly, until about the age  of 18, I wanted to be the next Mia Hamm. Clearly, that wasn’t in the cards. To this day, I still idolize her. But, I was never one of those people who dreamt about being on television. I was an English major and thought I’d go to law school. My parents were actually the ones who recommended the reporting route (fearful I’d end up on their sofa with a seemingly worthless English degree). In high school, I’d always wanted to go to Northwestern’s acclaimed journalism program, so I decided to apply there for my masters. Since I graduated Stetson early and Northwestern’s masters program is only one year, I ended up at the ripe age of 22 in Washington with a community reporter job at the local cable station, NewsChannel 8.

It was very unglamorous. On my first day, I was handed keys to a beat up Ford Focus, a camera, a laptop, and told to go shoot a story. I had never even driven in DC before that. I started out in news and a year later graduated to weekend anchoring. It felt forced, though. As a former athlete, sports just seemed to fit my personality better. My news director, who oversaw both NewsChannel 8 and the ABC affiliate (the promised land to us cable reporters), was like most local news directors: He hated sports. I remember him telling me, “the sports department just asked to cover Nats Spring Training. If I won’t send a news reporter out of state for budgetary reasons, why would I send a sports reporter out of state?” Well, It just so happened that I was going home to Melbourne, Florida for a brief vacation. It also just so happened to be Stephen Strasburg’s first big league training camp, and the Nationals train 20 miles away from my parent’s house. So, I grabbed my camera and told the sports guys I would shoot video for them. In turn, it led to my first shot at anchoring (because nobody wanted to work on Easter) and my news director figured it’d be a slow news day. Wrong. Donovan McNabb was traded to the Redskins that night.

There’s no better test than live TV, and somehow I passed. They permanently moved me to the ABC affiliate as a sports reporter, and I gradually became a weekend anchor as well. When Rachel Nichols left ESPN, there was an obvious void and opening within the bureau department. An aside, I’ve always looked up to Nichols, who’s a fellow Northwestern alum. Fortunately, I didn’t bomb my audition. The hiring process is grueling at ESPN, you meet with no fewer than 20 people, and they really test your sports knowledge. Understandably, there was some concern about my age for a role that is entrenched in professional sports (I auditioned at age 26), but some great people at the network believed in me. I owe several people thanks for the opportunity.

Alongside Pete Rose.

Alongside Pete Rose.

J.P.: So when I did a YouTube search for you, the very first thing that pops up is a video titled, BRITT MCHENRY..SHE’S GOT WHATEVER IT IS. Many of your Instagram photos are accompanied by sexual comments. It seems like women in journalism go through this shit all the time, and I wonder how it makes you feel. Weirded out? Concerned? What?

B.M.: It definitely weirds out my close friends and family. My best girl friends joke they hate being in any photo with me because they instantly get followed by 10 strangers. I don’t get bothered by it because I don’t pay attention to it. There’s always going to be some list or ranking of “hottest this” “hottest that,” and it’s both subjective and trivial. At the end of the day, and hopefully a very long career, I want to emulate women like Hannah Storm, Robin Roberts, Suzy Kolber, Wendi Nix. All those women are beautiful, no doubt. But they’ve proven themselves as credible journalists and empowered business women. The goal is to have somebody watch my reports and enjoy the substance. Good or bad, the only feedback that truly matters is that of my employers and colleagues.

J.P.: I’ve always been a writer, and I sorta cringe when I hear TV reporters called “The talent.” Britt, serious question: Does it really take that much talent to be very good on television? More than it takes to write? Or produce? And what are the necessary skills?

B.M.: I wouldn’t say either requires more “talent,” but obviously all are very different skill sets. It is absolutely difficult to host a show when the prompter goes down, segments get cut, guests are sitting next to you, and you have to quarterback the whole situation. It’s also very challenging to ad lib and come across smoothly on camera if things break down in the field.  Essentially, in my opinion, the best on air people can combine all of those skills. A great example is Trey Wingo on NFL Live. He has a producer’s mind, he’s extremely poised on air and like all of us, he writes his own material. It’s a personal favorite of mine when the occasional critic will say, “Thank God you have a writer and a teleprompter or else you wouldn’t have a job.” Well, we have neither in the field. That particular insult is actually a compliment (in a weird Twitter sort of way).

J.P.: What does it feel like to absolutely fuck up on air? And what’s your biggest fuck up?

B.M.: It’s not ideal, can tell you that much. We have so many hits throughout the day, you’re bound to trip up from time to time. It’s just inevitable. The key is to be able to recover quickly—which isn’t always easy when things replay. I used to take mess-up’s particularly hard because I know there’s a large base of people out there waiting for it given that I’m both young and female. It doesn’t matter if you have 20 perfect hits, viewers will harp on the one that’s not. So, you have to learn to let that go. If I pronounce a name wrong every now and then, so be it; just don’t make it frequent (and pray it’s not recorded).

J.P.: You’re all over Twitter and all over Instagram. Serious question: Why?

B.M.: Good question. Facebook was created my freshman year of college, so my generation is arguably the first to grow up with social media. From a news gathering purpose, I love Twitter. I very rarely read newspapers anymore. Instead, I follow all my favorite writers and publications which span a variety of topics. If something interests me, I’ll click on the tweet. I genuinely like engaging with viewers—even find it to be a test of wit if I can respond to mean tweets creatively. Do I wish I had a thicker skin handling inappropriate comments on social media? Absolutely. There are people far better at handling it.

What bothers me is when the trolling comes from fellow media members. In a Utopian world, we would all have enough professionalism and respect for one another to avoid such behavior. Not always the case. For example, a local Philadelphia anchor, whom I had never even met before, tweeted a response to a picture I recently posted that read, “Crazy how modest you are.” The picture was of me as a teenager wearing a polo and pigtails. It was hardly meant to brag; if anything I was poking fun at myself. It was intended in jest as part of the “throwback” trend on social media and to engage with viewers. But, the picture came from Wilhelmina, whom I included in the tweet. I have no doubt in my mind this man took issue with it because the picture was related to a modeling agency. Which in my opinion is a bit sexist.

The fact is, anytime the positive comments start to proliferate so will the negative ones. Everybody in media, in this growing age of social media, needs to learn to deal with that. My focus is journalism. It’s not anything else. But, I don’t see the harm in documenting travels or sharing creative ideas or jokes that might come along. I’ve rarely, if ever, posted anything regarding my personal life, nor will I. Professionally, however, Twitter and Instagram are great vehicles for the network and for branding. I believe you can balance the serious element of things with what you enjoy on the side. I did it as a student athlete and hope to continue to do that as a professional.

With Teddy Bridgewater

With Teddy Bridgewater

J.P.: Sometimes, especially when something like Ferguson happens, I think to myself, “Damn, why do I care about sports?” I mean, it just feels so meaningless and inconsequential. Do you ever get that way? Are you ever like, “Steelers? Who gives a crap when climate change is melting the planet”?

B.M.: To an extent. I think no matter what you’re doing, it’s important to stay abreast of current events. During football season, I buy a copy of The Economist every week for that very reason. I’ve found it can be dangerous to get too involved in subjects like Ferguson because I’m not covering it, nor am I completely knowledgeable about everything that’s happening. Once again, it goes back to the previous question and issues with Twitter. More often than not, it’s wise to hesitate before typing to ensure any kind of opinion is warranted.

J.P.: Random question alert: Tell me everything about your senior prom experience.

B.M.: The only thing any girl remembers is the dress (apologies in advance to my friend and date, Dustin Brookshire). I wore a rhinestone studded hot pink gown, and my mom took a million pictures. The allure of prom was always the stuff leading up to it, not the actual dance. I do vaguely remember dancing to Lil Jon’s “To the Window, to the Wall.” Not sure if that’s the actual title of the song, just remember those genius lyrics. It’s an early 2000’s classic.

J.P.: Britt, I just read this story about former NFL star Darryl Talley, and I have to ask: When do we, as a profession, say, “We’re done glorifying a sport that is destroying people?” We don’t endorse cigarette smoking, crack, coke, etc. Even soda and fast food. But we cover and glorify football as if it’s this amazing thing. You agree? Disagree?

B.M.: Since I’m currently in the middle of NFL coverage, I’m going to abstain from answering this one.

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 8.52.46 PM

J.P.: Bob Ley spoke with me about “red light fever”—the arrogance, the ego that comes with excessive TV exposure. Do you ever feel it? The high of airport recognition? Of signing an autograph? Is it a real thing? And why do you think people are so drawn to those who appear on TV? I mean, it’s just a box in our living rooms, no?

B.M.: Living out of a suitcase, I rarely look all that put together at the airport so hopefully people don’t recognize me. Occasionally, I’ll get a weird stare like, “Hey, you look familiar,” or “Did I just see you on TV?,” but that’s about it. I used to think all of that would be much cooler than it actually is. While flattering, it doesn’t matter if your name trends on Twitter or a thousand people follow you because that’s not tangible love or affection. Ultimately, what matters is if you’re fulfilled in real life; the day to day interactions with people you care about and trust. Loving your job is part of that. Even though people see what they think is a glamorous version of an individual covering their favorite sport, when the camera stops rolling that individual is probably headed to a dingy satellite truck to eat fast food with their producer. Still awesome, but that’s the reality. No disrespect to Jimmy Johns…

Having the opportunity to start at the network so young has taught me that crucial lesson early. Reporters shouldn’t become the story. Now, do I like using the platform to help certain non-profits? Yes. Is it fun to do an occasional magazine shoot? Definitely. All of that has its perks but should be used in doses. Thankfully, I have a family that will bring me back down to earth real quick, if I ever acted or thought otherwise.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 12.54.32 PM

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BRITT MCHENRY:

• Tell me three things about your dad: He’s incredibly intelligent, a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel, and he asks more questions than any reporter I’ve ever met—fact.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Darren McFadden, spiced nuts, Rick Ocasek, Johnson & Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Adam Levine, Cage the Elephant, your coat hangers, Kingpin, neck tattoos: Chris Hemsworth was the only thing I saw in this sentence.

• The world needs to know: What was it like being soccer teammates with Brittany Jones?: If the world finds out, let me know. We weren’t teammates. I was, however, teammates with US Women’s National Team goalie Ashlyn Harris. To this day, she’s the most naturally gifted athlete I’ve ever seen. Ask her to randomly play any sport, you’ll see.

• When you hear “Reggie Jackson,” do you first think of the Yankee slugger, the Thunder guard or my third grade classmate?: Your third grade classmate told you he knows me? Man, some things aren’t sacred anymore …

• Greatest moment as a San Diego Padre dugout reporter?: When I left. Quitting a job after two weeks was something I never thought I’d do. Technically, I never truly started, there were contractual issues. I wanted to be more than just a sideline reporter in my career. Therefore, it’s probably the best “worst” decision I’ve ever made.

• If roses smelled like shit, and shit smelled like roses, would we love the smell of shit or roses?: Roses. We’re a culture that loves visual stimulation, even if what’s beneath the surface stinks.

• You last updated your Facebook page in 2012. Why?: I made the mistake early on in my career of accepting EVERY friend request, thinking it would help people see my work online. Big mistake. My Facebook is beyond repair in the amount of strangers it’s accumulated. Also, who doesn’t get sick of the constant baby and proposal pictures. It’s a sad world when you consider Twitter to be your respite.

• How many times per year would you say you pick your nose? And do you think the phrase, “I never pick my nose” is a 100 percent lie when uttered by adults?: I’m sure in 20 degree temperatures during some of my live shots recently, there’s a lot of questionable nose activity in an effort to compose myself on air.

• Five reasons one should make Mount Holly Township his/her next vacation destination?: None, ha. I was born there, but my parents moved shortly thereafter. Dad knew what was up (my very feisty mother, who’s a New Jersey native, will not approve of this comment).

• One question you would ask Priscilla Presley were she here right now?: Can we go back to the Chris Hemsworth question. What about him?