Year-in-review requires perspective listening to 2013 Simmons podcast with Whitlock

Jason Whitlockbill-simmonsAn excerpt from my latest column for Poynter:


To gain perspective on the two biggest stories in sports journalism in 2015, you need to dial up a podcast from two years ago.

On Aug. 15, 2013, Jason Whitlock was Bill Simmons’ guest on his “BS Report” podcast for Grantland. Yes, it can be found, and in light of what happened this year, the interview sounds laughable and more than a touch ironic.

Back then, Whitlock was beaming in rejoining ESPN after leaving in 2006. “This is one of the greatest days of my life,” he said.

Whitlock discussed how he “fell in love” with ESPN president John Skipper. Skipper wanted Whitlock to oversee a new ESPN aimed at African-Americans. Whitlock called it “the black Grantland.”

“Skipper carved out a vision for me,” Whitlock said. “It was like he talked to my mother…It was everything I wanted to hear.”

Indeed, the podcast was an ESPN lovefest with Simmons welcoming Whitlock to join him on the thrones in Bristol, Conn. Does it get much better for a writer than getting to develop and then run your own site on the biggest platform in sports?

Whitlock, who repeatedly bashed the network during his hiatus, called his previous employer,, “off Broadway” compared to ESPN.

“ESPN is Broadway,” Whitlock said. “It’s the big stage. All the spotlight is on you.”

And then ESPN turned off the spotlight on both of them in 2015. Whitlock was relieved of his duties in developing The Undefeated site. He eventually left ESPN. Meanwhile, ESPN decided it could live without Simmons, saving big money by not renewing his contract.

In both cases, the downfall of Simmons and Whitlock at ESPN likely was due to big-head syndrome. Deadspin documented how Whitlock, with his bizarre and grandiose pronouncements, clearly lacked the leadership skills to run a major site.

Talking a lot, saying little: ASAP Sports has transcribed 1,364 interviews with Tiger Woods

Mercer Baggs of has a good piece on Tiger Woods turning 40 on Dec. 30. He notes that after all these years, we still don’t really know who Woods is.

However, it isn’t as if Woods hasn’t talked. From the column:

Tiger’s talked a lot over the last two decades. Did you know he has 1,364 transcripts on since 1996? That’s about 72 transcribed interviews a year during that span. Well more – over 200 more – than Phil Mickelson has given in a greater time frame. And that only counts when a stenographer was around.

Also, I had forgotten about this:

Back in the day, the early professional days, Tiger regularly came into Golf Channel studios. He did interviews. He even viewed tape. We could peek into the window of the library screening room and watch him watch footage of past majors, gleaning knowledge on an unfamiliar venue. We were told not to bug him, and we always kept a respectful distance. Think he drove a Mercedes.

Tiger seemed relatable back then. Like, if you just introduced yourself that would lead to a chat. A chat would lead to more casual conversations. That would lead to some level of friendship, and maybe this superstar athlete would hang out with some regular folk throwing darts in a Winter Park pub and drinking bourbon two hours after close.

Probably too much of an ask, but we were kids. A bunch of young, single people, fresh out of college and beginning their professional careers, living in a fairly vibrant Orlando area. We saw the same in Tiger.

Alas, that was about as close as anyone at the Golf Channel, or anyone else, would get to Woods. The above is a 1996 interview Peter Kessler had with Woods.

Baggs’ main point:

It’s astonishing to look back and recount what Tiger has accomplished since then. And after all these years, after all we’ve seen and all we’ve heard, after witnessing his preeminence and the proclivity that wrecked his personal life, we often wondered: Who is Tiger Woods?

Arguably no athlete has ever spoken more than Tiger and, comparatively, revealed less.


‘The Vertical’: Adrian Wojnarowski set to launch NBA site on Yahoo

AdrianFollowing the lead of Peter King with MMQB, NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski will get similar treatment with his new deal from Yahoo! Sports.

Here’s the official announcement from Yahoo:


Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the most dominant force in NBA reporting, is debuting his new weekly podcast called “The Vertical Podcast with Woj.” The audio series, launching today, will begin with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver as the first guest, and will publish new episodes each Wednesday, along with regular breaking news reports throughout the year.

And this is just the beginning as Woj is launching a new basketball site, “The Vertical,” as a part of Yahoo Sports in early 2016, bringing together an elite group of NBA journalists, insiders and experts to create the internet’s hub of basketball information and storytelling.

The site will feature Michael Lee, one of the elite writers and reporters on the NBA, Shams Charania, the 21-year old wunderkind insider and writer, front office insider Bobby Marks, a 20-year NBA front office executive, Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz of Draft Express, the industry leaders in global information and content revolving around the NBA Draft, Nick DePaula of, the pre-eminent journalist on the basketball shoe industry, Tim Grover, longtime trainer of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant who will provide content centered around the players’ mind and body, and Brian Scalabrine. Stay tuned for more information!

Click here to subscribe and download the podcast on iTunes or listen on Yahoo Sports.


Terrific news: Mark Rolfing feeling ‘great’ after cancer treatments; set to work Kapalua tournament

Everyone who knowsMark_Rolfing_Bio_Photo Mark Rolfing will be thrilled to hear this news. He is returning to his duties as a golf analyst.

Rolfing missed the last part of the season while undergoing treatment for cancer. However, he said in a text to me last week that he is feeling “great” and looking forward to getting back to reporting on golf.

Here is the official release from the Golf Channel:


Longtime Golf Channel / NBC Sports golf analyst Mark Rolfing is set to return to the broadcast team at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii, Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 7-10. In August, Rolfing was diagnosed with a rare form of salivary gland cancer and took a leave of absence following the PGA Championship for surgery and treatment.

Rolfing, who lives in Maui, will serve as a tower analyst for the first two PGA TOUR events in 2016 – the Hyundai Tournament of Champions (comprised of PGA TOUR tournament winners in the 2014-15 PGA TOUR season) and the Sony Open in Hawaii, the first full-field event in 2016 (Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 14-17). He also will work the kickoff event for 2016 Champions Tour season, the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, (Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 21-24), and will contribute to Morning Drive and Golf Central throughout the three-week stretch.

Rolfing underwent surgery on Aug. 13 to remove a malignant growth from his left cheek area, confirming the original diagnosis. Dr. Alexander Langerman at the University of Chicago performed the surgery, and Dr. Tom Buchholz and Dr. Steven Frank at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas oversaw Rolfing’s proton therapy radiation treatment and recovery.

“Debi and I would like to thank everyone for their overwhelming support during these past several months, including our Golf Channel and NBC Sports family, friends in the media, players and fans,” said Rolfing. “The medical staffs at the University of Chicago and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston have been amazing. I’m excited to rejoin my colleagues in January in welcoming the PGA TOUR back to Hawaii.”

“Mark has been an incredible asset to Golf Channel and NBC’s broadcast teams for many years, and we are grateful to the tremendous work he and his team of doctors have put forth over the past six months during his treatment and recovery,” said Molly Solomon, Golf Channel executive producer. “We are all excited to see him in January doing what he does best – calling golf and giving viewers an inside look into his beloved state of Hawaii.”



Former LA Times sports editor Bill Dwyre reflects on past, future of business

DwyreExcerpts from my latest column for Poynter.


You will be hard pressed to find anyone with a more unique perspective on the epic shifts in sports journalism than Bill Dwyre.

After 25 years as sports editor of the Los Angeles Times, Dwyre sought a change in 2006. He wanted to spend the final years of his career writing as a columnist.

In hindsight, Dwyre says it was the right decision. The view he got during the last 9 ½ years was much different than if he stayed in “my glass office.”

“I’m happy that I did get both looks [as an editor and writer],” Dwyre said.

Even though he says he isn’t retiring from writing, Dwyre recently bid farewell to the Los Angeles Times. He didn’t necessarily want to leave, but he says if somebody “offers you a buyout at 71, you take it.”

The final column put the wraps on Dwyre’s highly-successful run at the paper. He won the 1996 Red Smith Award for contributions to sports journalism, the Associated Press Sports Editors highest honor.

Dwyre experienced the best of the times for the Times and newspapers, and the worst.

Indeed, the contrast is striking. When Dwyre took over as sports editor in 1981, he oversaw a staff of more than 130 people. He recalls the Times sports section had so much talent, a young Rick Reilly had to work his way up to the main newsroom in Los Angeles from the Orange County bureau.

Of course, it helps to have your clean-up hitter be Jim Murray. Dwyre said for a columnist of such immense talent, Murray had “no ego.”

“He was incredible,” Dwyre said.

Dwyre had vast sports sections to showcase Murray and the other writers’ work. During the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the Times published 24 special sections, many of them 44 pages.

The travel budget virtually was unlimited. Dwyre said the Times once dispatched a reporter to Paris just to get a quote from an athlete to fill out a story.

Early in his tenure, Dwyre sent Murray to St. Andrews for the British Open. Concerned that he might have spent too much, he called then editor Bill Thomas.

“I remember there was a long pause,” Dwyre said. “Then he said, ‘Listen kid, I give you a budget and I expect you to spend every cent of it and more. Don’t bother me anymore.’”


Dwyre had an interesting answer when asked about his assessment for the future.

“One of two things is going to happen,” Dwyre said. “Everything is going to go to the web. Then every newspaper in the country, except maybe the big ones, will start printing one or two days a week. We will just give away.

“Or this on-going mandate to do everything digital that’s making us no money, has no financial backing for the journalism, will finally run out. Somebody then will put a lot of money into this thing that gets delivered to your doorstep every day, and people will get excited about it. The whole thing will come full circle.”


A pro’s pro: ESPN’s Chris LaPlaca inducted into PR Hall of Fame

Congratulations to Chris LaPlaca, one of ESPN’s originals from the launch in 1979.

Katina Arnold writes in ESPN Front Row:

WASHINGTON — ESPN Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications,Chris LaPlaca was inducted into the “PR People Hall of Fame” at the PR News PR People Awards Luncheon. Hosted at the National Press Club, this event celebrates individuals who set benchmarks of excellence in public relations. Along with LaPlaca, Karen van Bergen (Porter Novelli), Margery Kraus (APCO Worldwide) and Bob Pearson (W20 Group) were also inducted.

In his acceptance speech, LaPlaca emphasized the need for “professional curiosity,” a message he conveys to people he mentors as well as colleagues in the media industry.

“Chris is the consummate communications professional, always on the cutting edge of communications strategies during his remarkable 35-plus-year career,” said ESPN Executive Vice President, Administration, Ed Durso. “Any organization would be lucky to have him and ESPN – for certain – continues to benefit from his tenacity, passion and top knowledge of what PR practices work.”

LaPlaca joined ESPN in 1980 as a communications representative. Since 2008, LaPlaca has served as the Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications. In this role, he is responsible for ESPN’s worldwide internal, public and media relations strategies, including oversight of consumer, corporate and employee communications for ESPN’s 50 business units. He also oversees the company’s relationship with The Walt Disney Company’s corporate communications and investor relations groups.

Sportsperson of the Year: Serena opts for provocative pose for Sports Illustrated cover


As always, there will be plenty of debate for Sports Illustrated’s choice of Sportsperson of the Year. I think I would have gone with Steph Curry, considering how he is tearing apart the NBA.

However, it is hard to argue with Serena Williams. She had a truly dominant year.

However, this isn’t the conventional cover for the winners of this award. Why the provocative pose?

It was her idea according to SI’s Christian Stone:

She was a difference-maker in other areas, speaking out against bodyshamers in both words and actions, posing for the Annie Leibovitz–shot Pirelli calendar in only a bikini bottom. The cover shot of this issue? Her idea, intended, like the Pirelli shots, to express her own ideal of femininity, strength, power.

Surely, there will be critics who contend there are other ways to express femininity, strength and power without being so provocative.

What do you think?




RIP Phil Pepe: Long-time baseball writer for New York Daily News

Phil Pepe had quite a career. From the New York Daily News obit:

Pepe covered the Yankees for The News from 1968-1981 and wrote the lead game story for every World Series from 1969-81. In 1982, he succeeded Dick Young as The News’ sports columnist.

He left the paper in 1989 for WCBS radio, where he did morning sports — including his signature “Pep Talk” — for more than 15 years. He was also the director of broadcasting/radio analyst for the Class-A New Jersey Cardinals of the New York-Penn League for 12 seasons from 1994-2005.

He was the executive director of the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America for the past 21 years, having also served as the chapter’s chairman in 1975 and 1976. He attended every BBWAA awards dinner since 1962 and ran the event for more than two decades.

“There was a time, in another time in New York, when whatever had happened the day before or the night before with the Yankees didn’t become official until you picked up the Daily News and read Phil Pepe,” said columnist Mike Lupica. “Phil was more than just the Yankees across his long career at The News, and at the World Telegram & Sun before that, and with all the books he wrote about baseball. But in memory, he’s at the old Yankee Stadium still, sitting with Yogi, telling stories about Mantle and Maris, getting ready to write a game story about the Yankees of George and Billy and Reggie.”


Players are real losers with dwindling media access in college football

IvanExcerpts from my latest column for Poynter:


Access, or a lack thereof, continues to be a major problem for college football reporters. And that goes for the reporters from the biggest outlets in the business.

“What I got [in terms of access] as a national guy 25 years ago for the Dallas Morning News was much better than I get now writing for the biggest website in the country,” said Ivan Maisel of “I bet the guys at Sports Illustrated say the same thing.”

Billy Watkins of the Clarion-Ledger vented about his frustrations in a column about covering college football in Mississippi. In an email to me, Watkins wrote:

“I’m doing a big profile of a player at Navy. He is a senior from Mississippi. They have bent over backward getting me anything and everything I need for the story. They lined me up a 45-minute phone interview with him. They also set up an interview with the Navy head coach.

“It took me five months last year to get into the office of Ole Miss’ coach. And we’re the largest paper in the state. I’m sorry, but the subject kind of works me up.”

Prior to the season, Mark Selig, a graduate student at Missouri, surveyed football Southeastern Conference beat writers for his Backstory blog. He asked this question: If you wanted to write a story about a player, how confident are you that you can get 10-15 minutes for an interview?

The replies included:

James Crepea of the Alabama Media Group who covers Auburn: “Absolutely no chance this will happen.”

Josh Kendall of The State, who covers South Carolina: “Not at all. I’ve had one true one-on-one since I’ve been here (five years), and it turned out to be a great story because it’s a way better interview format.”


The lack of access actually hurts the players. For the 97 percent who won’t be going to the pros, this will be the last time in their lives the media cares what they have to say. This likely will be their only chance to tell their stories.

“We used to get to know the kids,” Gould said. “When you know people, you can have a meaningful dialogue. You can learn what they are all about.”

John Feinstein, in a recent column for the CBS Sports Radio site, also made a similar point about media-player relationships in college basketball. He wrote:

“Players are coached to be very careful around the media and, when they come into the interview rooms they are inhibited by the presence of TV cameras; PR people and, often, their coach, who is sitting right next to them. There’s very little chance to develop relationships.

“When I was the Maryland beat writer, I routinely went to practice. I routinely went in the locker room before and after practice to talk to players. It was a no-brainer. The players got to know me, felt comfortable when I was around. I was able to do my job well.”

If coaches truly are teachers preparing their players for life after football—OK, maybe I am being naïve again–they should see the value in allowing them to do interviews. Speaking to the media is a great way for players to develop communication skills. With extensive practice, they will be more effective public speakers. It’s a good pretty good skill to have when you are wearing a suit for that first post-college job interview, and it has nothing to do with football.

“[Former Notre Dame running back] Allen Pinkett was a go-to guy for me when I covered Notre Dame,” Gould said. “Now he is the color guy for [Notre Dame’s radio broadcasts]. Maybe all those interviews helped him.”

Maisel thinks Bobby Bowden always had the right approach in allowing the media access to his players.

“He used to say [speaking to the media] was a skill they had to learn,” Maisel said. “He felt it was a part of them being in college.”

Sports Illustrated’s greatest Super Bowl story that never appeared in the magazine

All I can really say is read this story by Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard. I don’t even know where to begin in terms of describing what it is about.

Just set aside a few minutes to read this wild and highly entertaining tale. You will be glad you did.

An excerpt:

When you begin working at a new job you’re bound to hear certain tales, perhaps apocryphal, perhaps embellished. For those of us who arrived at SI around the turn of the millennium, such was the story of Rick Telander and the Super Bowl hobo. The tale usually came out over beers at some dive bar, late on a hazy New York City night when the magazine had been put to bed but we were still wired. Inevitably, someone would bring up the story about the time that Telander, the bard of SI, decided to write the magazine’s biggest story of the year from the perspective of a hobo. As the tale went, Telander wrote the piece on a Sunday-night deadline, filed at 6 a.m. Monday, and then was ordered to rewrite it—on no sleep, in a matter of hours—before the Monday night close. As reporters, we loved this anecdote because, for starters, Who writes that story to begin with? The balls on Telander! Second, He wrote a Super Bowl gamer in two hours!? We also derived a measure of comfort from it all. Even Telander got his copy ripped by editors; we could all feel better about our own failings.

For all the tellings, however, we never found out if that story was true, perhaps out of some fear that it might disappoint.

But it does not. It is grander and stranger than we imagined.