Former White House communications director on similarities between covering sports, politics

An excerpt from my latest sports journalism column for Poynter.


Kevin Sullivan’s vast career in public relations has taken him from the NBA to NBC to the White House. Sports always have been a focal point, even for the most important job interview of his life.

In 2006, Sullivan was recommended to serve as the communications director for George Bush. However, he still had to pass the test in meeting the president.

Sullivan knew Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers, was a big sports fan. So he was ready when the president asked, “Where are you from?”

“Chicago, sir. White Sox, not Cubs,” said Sullivan, a native of Chicago’s South Side.

Sullivan obviously had the credentials, but the sports connection helped seal the deal. He then had a front row seat in the White House through the … Continue Reading

What a dumb way for Colin Cowherd to go out at ESPN

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana.


I mean, incredibly dumb.

After 12 years of a highly successful tenure at ESPN, Cowherd leaves on the lowest note possible. He was taken off the air before he could deliver a true good-bye on his last show.

In case you missed it, Cowherd got in all sorts of trouble for uttering this statement Thursday:

“You don’t think a general manager can manage? Like it’s impossible? The game is too complex? I’ve never bought into that, ‘Baseball’s just too complex.’ Really? A third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic.”

Immediately, the politically-incorrect alarm sounded throughout Bristol. It gets quite a workout these days.

The ESPN PR department went to Defcon 1 in anticipation of the inevitable flak storm coming its way. Sure enough, it was considerable with … Continue Reading

High and low: Tom Gage inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame in same year Detroit News takes him off Tiger beat

An excerpt from my latest sports journalism column for Poynter:


Tom Gage is struggling to describe the weirdest year of his life. At one point, he just blurts out, “It’s been very awkward.”

Finally, Gage sums up his wildly divergent emotions.

“I would wish this on everybody,” Gage said. “And I would wish it on nobody.”

Saturday, Gage will experience the pinnacle of his career when he accepts the J.G. Taylor Spink Award during induction weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It is the ultimate honor for a baseball writer, marking his quality coverage of the Detroit Tigers since 1979. Gage’s name will reside on a plaque in the Hall that features previous Spink winners such as Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, Red Smith, Shirley Povich, and Peter Gammons.

Gage recalled he was stunned when he received … Continue Reading

Cash crunch at ESPN: What’s next? Interns anchoring SportsCenter?

OK, maybe it isn’t that bad. However, it appears as if John Skipper is toning down ESPN’s money-making machine.

With Bill Simmons gone and the pending of departures of Keith Olbermann and Colin Cowherd, ESPN clearly is reviewing its fiscal obligations when it comes to spending big money for big talent.

From Richard Sandomir of the New York Times:

While different factors contributed to their departures, they come at a time when ESPN is coping with rising production costs and soaring rights fees. ESPN paid $7.3 billion for the college football playoff, which made its debut earlier this year, and $15.2 billion for National Football League rights.

In each of the last four quarters, those big investments cut into operating profits of the cable networks division at the Walt Disney Company.

And, like other cable networks, ESPN is losing subscribers

Continue Reading

Next wave? How Pittsburgh sports columnist left newspaper to launch own site; Nearly 14,000 paid subscribers

An excerpt from my latest column for Poynter.


Dejan Kovacevic seemed to have everything in place. He was front and center in a passionate sports town as the lead columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He had stability for his family with a nice salary and benefits.

Then last July, Kovacevic walked away from all of it to launch his own website. Even he jokes about the audacity of such a move in today’s precarious media environment.

“I had a momentary lapse of reason,” Kovacevic said.

Actually, Kovacevic, 48, had a vision that there was a better way for him to cover the Pittsburgh sports scene. Thus far, it is hard to argue with the results.

His site, DKonPittsburghSports, will hit its one-year anniversary with nearly 14,000 subscribers; he says they pay an average of $20 per year. He … Continue Reading

Bob Ley on Outside The Lines at 25: ‘Let’s go commit some journalism’

An excerpt of my latest column for Poynter:


Bob Ley boils down the essence of “Outside The Lines.”

“Let’s go commit some journalism,” Ley said.

There isn’t another show on sports television — and few others in television, period — that can match ESPN’s crown jewel when it comes to committing quality journalism on a regular basis. “Outside the Lines,” also known as OTL, will celebrate its 25th anniversary Tuesday with a one-hour special on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET.

Ley, who was the anchor for the first OTL on May 7, 1990, admits the landmark anniversary caught him by surprise.

“A bunch of us were sitting around and we went, ‘Holy crap, we’ve been doing this for 25 years,’” Ley said. “They cleared out an hour in primetime for us to do a show. The task has been uplifting … Continue Reading

New book highlights best work of incomparable W.C. Heinz; Interview with editor Bill Littlefield

An excerpt of my latest column for Poynter:


The passage of time doesn’t do justice to the greats of sports journalism. Their vast works tend to get forgotten in the new media world, where today and tomorrow seem paramount. Who needs yesterday?

So many thanks to The Library of America and Bill Littlefield for reviving the brilliance of W.C. Heinz in a new book, “The Top of His Game.” Littlefield, the host of NPR’s “Only A Game,” selected the best  columns and stories from one of the best sportswriters of all time.

A noted columnist in New York during the ‘40s, Heinz became a freelance writer in the ’50s, pioneering long-form sports articles for magazines. When David Halberstam served as guest editor in 1999 for “The Best American Sports Writing of the Century,” he included three of Heinz’s stories. … Continue Reading

Bob Ryan to receive prestigious Red Smith Award: ‘Secret is to cover great teams’

An excerpt of my latest column for Poynter on Bob Ryan:


Ryan also struck an immediate bond with Larry Bird. John Havlicek asked him to assist on his autobiography. He calls Dave Cowens “the most interesting character I ever encountered in sports.” The former Boston center asked Ryan to help write his retirement announcement.

Ryan immersed himself in the beat by closely monitoring practices and expanding his education over discussions with players and coaches. He earned their credibility and respect. He treasures a statement in which Bird once said, “Bob Ryan could be a coach.”

“Baseball and basketball are my passions,” Ryan said. “I’ve always felt very comfortable in that world. I always was able to convey an enthusiasm and an eagerness to listen and learn. I couldn’t get enough.”

Another key, Ryan said, was doing his homework in … Continue Reading

Fox suffers through shaky debut in U.S. Open

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana.


I covered 12 U.S. Opens for the Chicago Tribune, and I came away with a headache from each one.

The cranky level always is at the highest levels. The five-hour-plus rounds leave everyone drained. The players are perpetually ticked off with the United States Golf Association’s wacky set-up. It wasn’t just last week at Chambers Bay. Check out the complaints from the first U.S. Open at Bethpage in 2002 and when the USGA lost the greens at Shinnecock in 2004.

As for the press, the logistics usually are challenging, and we live in constant fear of having to cover a Monday playoff. I imagine the press room delivered the biggest cheer at Chambers Bay when Dustin Johnson missed that putt at 18 Sunday.

It isn’t just the players … Continue Reading

Why Jordan Spieth’s success presents dilemma to Dallas Morning News

An excerpt from my latest column for Poynter.


The Dallas Morning News initially hadn’t planned to staff this week’s U.S. Open in Seattle. However, its golf writer Bill Nichols is on hand because of one reason: Jordan Spieth.

Spieth, the newly-minted Masters champion, presents the Morning News with quite a dilemma. Despite limited resources, the paper is trying to figure out how to cover a local product who is the hottest young star in golf.

“Jordan has been an interesting test case in the new world for us,” said sports editor Garry Leavell.

Leavell says his travel budget is roughly a third of what it was 5 or 6 years ago. As a result, the Morning News stopped covering golf’s majors after the Masters in 2011.

“It’s all about economics,” Leavell said.

The Morning News hardly is alone, as … Continue Reading