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

An excerpt of my latest column for Poynter:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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

U.S. Open: Fox will need thick skin to handle reaction from finicky golf viewers

An excerpt from my latest Chicago Tribune column:

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A prediction on Fox Sports’ coverage of its first U.S. Open:

It won’t matter if Fox produces the best Open ever. Golf fans still will complain about a lack of quality. They always complain.

This isn’t to say that Fox’s debut on major championship golf will be a disaster, although it could be. Rather, it is about the realities of a very finicky golf audience that typically isn’t receptive to change.

“Anytime something is new, some people will like it and some people won’t,” said Mark Loomis, Fox Sports’ producer for golf.

After 20 years of the U.S. Open on NBC, there will be an adjustment period to a new lineup of voices. Joe Buck and Greg Norman will be the focal points as the lead announce team. Other analysts include … Continue Reading

Jason Whitlock needs to explain why he is no longer head of ‘Undefeated’

I’m pretty sure if there was an announcement that the world was about to end, it would occur on a Friday afternoon in the hopes nobody would notice.

ESPN executed the perfect Friday afternoon news dump when it disclosed that Jason Whitlock is out as the head of “The Undefeated” just weeks before its launch.

Clearly, something happened to knock out Whitlock from the African-American-based site that was conceived with him as the standard bearer. I have a hard time believing the release’s statement that ESPN and Whitlock “collectively decided to make some structural adjustments that will maximize the skill sets and strengths of our team, leading to the best possible output for the site and for all of ESPN.”

I’m not buying that notion that Whitlock took one for the team. This is a major embarrassment for someone of … Continue Reading

What Mike Emrick can teach you about language and journalism

An excerpt of my latest column for Poynter.org. One of the more enjoyable column I’ve done in my years of covering sports media.

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At the top of our interview, I told Mike Emrick I felt that the premium on writing has diminished in the 140-character new media age. He shares the same concerns.

“Words are the hammers and nails to build a sentence,” Emrick said. “You probably talk to young people about the value of putting together a good sentence, even a spoken one. This will sound like an old guy talking, but it is sort of a lost art.”

Emrick then told a story he heard while sitting next to a job recruiter on a plane.

“He said he talked to a young lady from Haddonfield, N.J. who ‘blew me away,’” Emrick said. “He said, ‘I asked myself … Continue Reading

NBC Sports chairman not a fan of playoff beards: ‘Hurts recognition’

An excerpt from my latest column for the Chicago Tribune.

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NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus is thrilled about the growth of hockey on NBC, but he has one request to its players: Please shave during the postseason.

Lazarus said he has lobbied the NHL and its players to end the tradition of the playoff beards. He believes the excess facial hair hurts player recognition for fans, perhaps hindering the development of new stars during the highest-rated games of the season.

“The players won’t like this, but I wish they all would stop growing beards in the postseason,” Lazarus said. “Let’s get their faces out there. Let’s talk about how young and attractive they are. What model citizens they are. (Hockey players) truly are one of a kind among professional athletes.

“I know it’s a tradition and superstition, but I … Continue Reading

Jeremy Schaap: On lessons learned from his father and cool call from Ethel Kennedy

An excerpt of my latest column for Poynter.

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It isn’t every day that Jeremy Schaap gets a call from Ethel Kennedy.

Mrs. Kennedy was on the line with the good news that ESPN had won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Schaap’s “E:60” story on deplorable work conditions in Qater in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. It was the first time the network received the prestigious honor.

Kennedy’s widow was extolling the virtues of the piece during their conversation when Schaap interrupted her.

“I said, ‘Mrs. Kennedy, I’ve got to tell you something. You knew my father,’” Schaap said.

Schaap’s father, Dick, wrote a biography, “R.F.K.”, that was published just months before Sen. Kennedy’s assassination in June, 1968. Upon hearing that piece of information, Mrs. Kennedy dropped the formal tone in her voice.

“Oh, I was … Continue Reading