Best of Gary Smith: SI staffers pick their favorite stories from one of all time greats

Put this post aside for when you have some time to do some reading. This is more than worth your time.

With Gary Smith announcing his retirement, Sports Illustrated did a terrific post asking staffers and others to select their favorite stories from him. Smith even participated in the exercise.

From the post:

Picking a favorite Gary Smith story is a near impossible task; there are so many great ones to choose from. When asked to pick his favorite or most memorable SI story, Smith identified two: a 1996 piece about an 18-year old mentally impaired South Carolina boy affectionately called Radio, which was made into a movie in 2003; and Damned Yankee, a 1997 story about a tormented Yankees catcher named John Malangone. “Out of all my stories, something just sticks out with those two,” Smith said.

I would put the Radio story high on my list. I also agree with SI editor Paul Fichtenbaum’s selection.

Paul Fichtenbaum, Editor, Time Inc. Sports Group
Frank Hall, American Hero, June 24, 2013

Trying to pick your favorite Gary Smith story is like trying to choose which of your children you love the most — it’s an impossible task. But if I have to pick I’ll point to one of his most recent longforms, the story of Frank Hall, who faced down a deadly school shooter in Chardon, Ohio. Why? First, it’s remarkable that somebody can sustain a level of unmatched excellence in any craft, especially after 30 years, and Gary has done just that in telling the tale of Hall. Second, it’s a helluva story, rich with details only a superior reporter can unearth, it is meticulously told with passion and emotion, and it is about a true American hero. What more can you ask?

From Richard Deitsch:

Richard Deitsch, senior editor
Shadow Of A Nation, Feb. 18, 1991

Commas. In the hands of an amateur, they can murder a reader. In the hands of a master, they create poetry. I’ve never seen a writer use the punctuation staple as elegantly as Gary Smith did, and no piece of sports writing has witnessed commas travel with more elegance than the tale of Jonathan Takes-Enemy, Crow Nation basketball legend. Here is but one graph: Through the sage and the buffalo grass they swept, over buttes and boulder-filled gullies, as in the long-ago days when their scouts had spotted buffalo and their village had packed up its lodge poles and tepee skins, lashed them to the dogs and migrated in pursuit of the herd. Damn, that’s perfect.

Update: Single day record for SI digital; MMQB strikes big by having first-person columns from Richard Sherman

Update: Eric Fisher of Sports Business Daily reports that SI digital set a signal day record Monday with 4.3 million uniques. Thank you, Mr. Sherman.


I tried to persuade Richard Sherman to keep it in the family and do his first-person story for Sherman Report. Please, cousin Richard.

OK, so maybe you guess we’re not related.

Anyway, the Seattle cornerback has been writing accounts of the season for Peter King’s new site, MMQB, at Sports Illustrated. Talk about incredible timing.

Sherman is the most talked-about athlete in sports today (well, besides Peyton Manning), and will be through the Super Bowl. And MMQB has him as a contributor. Sherman definitely will bring attention to the site.

Here’s his contribution about yesterday’s game and postgame, which at last check generated more than 1,200 comments prior to 2 p.m. ET.

Sherman on his now legendary interview with Erin Andrews:

It was loud, it was in the moment, and it was just a small part of the person I am. I don’t want to be a villain, because I’m not a villainous person. When I say I’m the best cornerback in football, it’s with a caveat: There isn’t a great defensive backfield in the NFL that doesn’t have a great front seven. Everything begins with pressure up front, and that’s what we get from our pass rushers every Sunday. To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field—don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.

But people find it easy to take shots on Twitter, and to use racial slurs and bullying language far worse than what you’ll see from me. It’s sad and somewhat unbelievable to me that the world is still this way, but it is. I can handle it.


Dave Zirin: SI Sportsman of Year has become a QBs award; Manning ‘a dreadful choice’

Earlier today, I wrote that Sports Illustrated made the right choice in selecting Peyton Manning to be its Sportsman of the Year.

Dave Zirin disagrees. In his column for The Nation, he slammed SI’s selection. He made an interesting observation that it has become a quarterback’s award.

An award that used to be for trailblazers, social justice avatars, and people whose sense of fair play brought out the best angels in sports, had become the magazine cover equivalent of the SI Swimsuit issue: all image and no substance. You could easily envision SI’s editors slamming their desks shouting, “Find me a quarterback dammit! And he better have blue eyes and dimples!”

Since 2004, the magazine has had Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and Drew Brees as their Sportsperson of the Year. So what do they do to break the trend in 2013? They give it to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning: the same Peyton Manning who in 2013 hasn’t done more than throw a bunch of touchdowns, make a ton of commercials, and choke in the playoffs. In other words, a typical Peyton Manning season.

Later, Zirin writes:

Yet another story that has defined 2013 was the growing awareness of head injuries in the National Football League. What about choosing Dr. Robert Cantu, the NFL’s concussion expert who said that he did not believe children under 14 should be allowed to play the sport? It is comments like that that turn Roger Goodell’s face a shade to match his hair. That would have been a bold choice.

Then there is tennis. There was once a time when it was not unusual to see a tennis player, particular a woman tennis player, named Sportsperson of the Year. This past year we had Serena Williams make her case as perhaps the greatest to ever take the court. If she had been chosen, Serena would have been the first solo woman to take the honor since Mary Decker in 1983. Seriously.

Zirin rattles off other candidates, all of whom deserve consideration.

However, as I wrote earlier, it is hard to overlook Manning and what he’s done. This isn’t a typical season for a 37-year old quarterback.


Sportsman of the Year: Sports Illustrated got it right with choice of Peyton Manning

It’s really hard to argue with Sports Illustrated’s choice, although many people will.

No, Peyton Manning didn’t win the Super Bowl in February. Failing to win the big game always will be the knock against the Denver quarterback.

But guess what? He has the Broncos in position again. He’s doing it with a video game offense producing all-time record numbers. With two games to go, he has 47 TD passes and has thrown for 4,811 yards. Damn, why did I skip over Manning in my fantasy draft?

And this is from a 37-year old quarterback who supposedly was done two years ago.

Even more, Manning easily is the most-watched athlete in 2013. The Broncos, it seems, are featured in one of the national windows almost every week, pulling in the biggest ratings for the various networks.

The reason? Peyton Manning. When he’s on, I’m watching, and so are you.

Sports Illustrated made the right choice.

Here is the link to Lee Jenkins’ story.


Charles Barkley rides a subway in New York

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch tagged along with Charles Barkley as the big man experienced New York’s subways for the first time yesterday. He was going out to Brooklyn for TNT’s coverage of the Knicks-Nets game.

Again, this is a perfect example of what you can do with an iPhone in the new age of media.

From Deitsch’s story.

4:02 p.m. Barkley has made it through the MetroCard entry with the help of one of New York City’s Finest. But the 6-foot-4 Barkley nearly his hits his head on a sign above when going through the entrance.

4:03 p.m. People in the subway start recognizing him. He poses for a couple of photos and shakes hands.

4:04 p.m. The E train comes by and passengers disembark into the station. A young guy walks off the E and his brain registers who is in front of him “Hey, you’re Charles Barkley,” says the man. This is true. Barkley responds, “How y’all doing?”

4:07 p.m. Kimberly Esteras, a 21-year-old from the Bronx, asks Barkley for a photo. I ask if she knows who Barkley is. She says her father, Miguel, is a big NBA fan. Barkley averaged 25.6 points for the Phoenix Suns the year she was born.

4:12 p.m. We hop on the C train. The camera phones come out. Someone asks Barkley if he is going to the Knicks-Nets game. Time for another crack. “I’m going to a pillow fight,” he says.

Awesome Sports Illustrated cover: Pays tribute to Boston first responders in Red Sox victory

Really a nice touch by Sports Illustrated. In fact, it is inspired and inspiring. This is the kind of cover that has an impact.

From SI:


In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (11/11/13)—on newsstands Wednesday— senior writer Tom Verducci writes about how 2013 World Series MVP David Ortiz, one of the greatest postseason sluggers ever, used leadership and resilience to carry the Red Sox and the city of Boston to their third Series title since 2004. Ortiz, who had a .688 BA with 11 hits and two home runs in the six- game Series against the Cardinals, shares this week’s cover with Boston police officers Javier Pagan and Rachel McGuire and detective Kevin McGill –all three appeared on SI’s April 22, 2013 cover as the issue reported on the Marathon bombings.

Writes Verducci, “If any one person were to lead the Red Sox and—given the team’s cultural importance in New England—by extension Bostonians through a terrible time, it was a man with an outsized capacity for resilience. The grind of a 162-game season played in a 182-day window, followed by the wilds of postseason play, would test even Lewis and Clark. But among baseball’s 109 world champions there has never been a story of resilience quite like this one. No team—not the 1969 Mets, not the ’91 Twins—has won the World Series in the year after being as bad as the Red Sox were in 2012 (.426 winning percentage). And only six months before the Series—just a half mile east on the same street where Ortiz was applauded—two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people, wounding 264 others and terrorizing hundreds of thousands. Four days later the citizenry was ordered to “shelter in place” during a daylong citywide lockdown, while a manhunt for the bombers proceeded. The pleasant routines of life, including baseball, were put on hold.”

Cover: SI should have gone with NFL concussion book excerpt over Kate Upton

OK, nothing wrong with a little fun. The Upton cover concept was clever.

Besides, the presence of Kate Upton on the cover will help newsstands sales, even if she isn’t in a skimpy bathing suit.

However, there was a better choice this week. Sports Illustrated has the excerpt from Mark and Steve Fainaru’s new book about concussions and football, League of Denial.

The headline on the An exclusive excerpt from the book the NFL doesn’t want you to read

Indeed, there’s some eye-opening stuff in the excerpt. It is going to generate considerable talk. Given the gravity of the story and the anticipation for the book, it would seem to be cover material. Certainly more so than Kate Upton in a baseball uniform.

By the way, the excerpt from the book led with a terrific passage featuring the legendary David Halberstam:

Late in 1994, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue appeared with two other commissioners, the NBA’s David Stern and the NHL’s Gary Bettman, in the auditorium at New York City’s 92nd Street Y to discuss the state of their respective leagues. The panel’s moderator was the journalist David Halberstam, who had gone on to a career of writing books, including several about sports, after winning the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Vietnam War for The New York Times.

After dispensing with questions about labor relations and league finances, Halberstam turned to the NFL’s growing concussion problem. Tagliabue dismissed the matter as a “pack journalism issue” and claimed that the NFL experienced “one concussion every three or four games,” which he said came out to 2.5 concussions for every “22,000 players engaged.”

For Halberstam, it was a moment of déjà vu. He seemed to be taken back to the days of the Five O’Clock Follies, the name the Saigon press corps bestowed upon the surreal, statistics-crammed U.S. government press briefings. Halberstam compared the NFL commissioner with the U.S. defense secretary of the 1960s. “I feel I’m back in Vietnam hearing [Robert] McNamara give statistics,” he told the audience, which howled.

Fitting tribute: Sports Illustrated cover features Mariano Rivera

And here’s the write-up on Tom Verducci’s story:

(NEW YORK – September 18, 2013) – Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the template for what it means to be a pitcher, a teammate and a friend, says senior writer Tom Verducci in the cover story for this week’s Sports Illustrated, on newsstands Wednesday.  “Closing time for the game’s greatest closer has arrived,” Verducci writes. And as Rivera—baseball’s alltime leader in regular-season and postseason saves—ends his iconic career, Verducci presents an oral history of Rivera with commentary from coaches, teammates, opponents and fans whose lives Rivera has touched. The Yankees’ closer appears on SI’s cover for the fourth time, with the billing “Exit Sandman.”

“Probably not since Koufax have we seen anyone leave the game with so much respect,” says Joe Torre, Rivera’s manager with the Yankees for four of his five World Series championships.

Sports Illustrated defends Oklahoma State coverage: ‘Stands behind the work’

When the dirt starts flying during one of these big investigations, it isn’t unusual for the news outlet to find itself on the firing line.

Such is the case with Sports Illustrated and its five-part series on Oklahoma State football.

Deadspin has done posts knocking down the SI package. Yesterday, ESPN’s Brett McMurphy also did a story that questioned the veracity of statements by one of the key players quoted by Sports Illustrated.

McMurphy writes:

Some aspects of the story of former Oklahoma State safety Fath’ Carter, who was quoted extensively in Sports Illustrated’s series about improprieties within the Cowboys’ football program, are inconsistent with information obtained by ESPN from a number of university documents.

Carter was one of the main sources quoted in SI’s five-part series that alleges players were paid by coaches and boosters and had an academic coordinator complete school work for them while at Oklahoma State.

Among the claims by Carter that are not supported by university documents were that he graduated from the school and attended classes in 2004 with running back Tatum Bell in which the professor gave them failing grades because their eligibility had expired.

Another discrepancy was from running back Dexter Pratt, who told SI that in his first semester, in 2009, every course he took was online. According to university records, Pratt took three online courses and two actual classes.

In response, Sports Illustrated issued the following statement.

“In its 10-month investigation of the Oklahoma State football program, Sports Illustrated spoke independently with more than sixty former players and eight former assistant coaches as well as members of the University’s administration. Interviews were recorded and subsequently reviewed by a team of editors and fact checkers. Sports Illustrated stands behind the work and the investigation.”

Yesterday, when the various stories came out, I heard from several people who said Jason Whitlock was right to question the credentials of Thayer Evans, who shared the double byline. However, as I wrote earlier, Whitlock was wrong to zero in on Evans, because these stories are much bigger than one person.

Pulitzer Prize winner George Dohrmann is the lead writer and executive editor Jon Wertheim is overseeing the project. Two of the best in the business with impeccable credentials.

Yet beyond them, Sports Illustrated, like any major magazine, goes through an extensive fact-checking process for all of its stories. Facts are examined many times, and I’m sure you could multiply it by three for this package.

Also, for a story of this nature, SI’s lawyers played a major role in vetting a package that includes major allegations. Lawyers are rigorous gate-keepers.

So no, this doesn’t validate Whitlock and other critics of SI here. I think the stories are strong.

Anyone who is shocked that a major college football program is skirting the rules should get a reality check.