NFL TV experience still doesn’t compare to being at a game

I took the family to a Bears game a few weeks ago. I froze despite wearing long underwear; I had limited perspective with seats in the endzone; and somebody forgot to put the chocolate in the hot chocolate I ordered at the concession stand.

And I loved being there.

There has been some concern of late that the TV production quality for NFL games is so superior that people will choose the comforts of their couch over popping for those high-priced tickets. None other than commish Roger Goodell said: “One of our biggest challenges is the fan experience at home. HD is only going to get better.”

ESPN’s Outside the Lines dedicated Sunday’s show to the issue with a report from Darren Rovell.’s Rick Reilly gave more reasons to skip the drive to the stadium. He writes:

7) The yellow first down line.

8) Your comfy couch. Have you sat in an NFL seat for three-and-a-half hours lately? They’re approximately the size of American Girl Doll tea chairs. This makes no sense. American seats are getting wider while American stadium seats are getting narrower?

I’ve heard all the arguments, and I saw the fans in Rovell’s report who gave up their tickets to watch the games at home.

And I’m here to say that it is not the same.

Watching the game at home still is a mostly passive experience compared to being in the stands. I could doze off or watch 20 minutes of Rudy while channel surfing.

If I really care about the game, I’m definitely focused in. But I’m not nearly as engaged as being there.

I’m not standing up with 60,000 of my new friends on third and 1. I don’t feel the emotional swings of the game as intensely.

I’m not taking in all the colors on the field and in the stands, a scene that can’t be replicated on television. There’s still something unique about walking up the ramp and seeing everything for the first time on that particular day. Watching Chris Berman during the pregame definitely doesn’t compare.

In my mind, TV has been good for a really long, long time. Probably since the NBC peacock announced the upcoming game would be shown in “living color.” The fact that it has improved dramatically only makes it that much better.

I bow to the alter of Scott Hanson and NFL RedZone, the best creation since….beer?

But it isn’t the same as being at a game.

As Rovell pointed out in his report, the NFL needs to enhance the fan experience to keep up with the times. At the game I attended at Soldier Field, I required better Internet access to follow my terrible fantasy team. During breaks, I wanted to see more RedZone-like highlights on the video board. There were too few of them.

And I wouldn’t have minded some chocolate in my hot chocolate.

I’m not saying I want to go to every game. I’m fine with one or two a year and definitely not in late November or December.

I know it can be a hassle with traffic and parking. And sometimes you might sit next to an idiot.

Some things in life, though, are worth making an effort. I think plenty of people agree. Despite the Bears’ horrid effort last night, the cheapest tickets for the Chicago-Minnesota game at Soldier Field Sunday are listed at $120 for high endzone on Stubhub. There’s still something special about being there.

I will be watching from the comforts of my couch Sunday. And I know it won’t be the same.









Wilbon on why he still writes: It’s who I am; does columns for

Part 3 of my Q/A with Michael Wilbon:

Michael Wilbon was at Soldier Field to write a column off the Bears-Houston game last Sunday. And he plans to be at San Francisco to do the same drill for the Bears-49ers game Monday.


I am not alone in asking this question. Wilbon already has a packed schedule with two shows at ESPN: Pardon The Interruption and NBA Countdown. And he has various other duties, projects and speaking engagements that keep him plenty busy.

Wilbon earns crazy money, as in excess of seven figures annually. He isn’t grinding out 80 or so columns per year for the money. Knock a couple zeros off of Wilbon’s contract, and that’s what a sportswriter earns.

And Wilbon isn’t even writing for ESPN’s biggest online platform. Most of his columns run at Hence, his coverage of Chicago sports.

Yet there Wilbon is, trolling the press boxes of his hometown teams. Going down to the lockerroom; checking sources. It can be hard and difficult. Grunt work, for lack of a better term.

Why wasn’t he relaxing at home Sunday night instead of catching a post-midnight ride in the rain outside of Soldier Field?

The answer, Wilbon says, is simple. Even though he has gained fame and considerable fortune on TV, the former Washington Post columnist says, once a writer, always a writer.

Here’s my Q/A.

You don’t have to do this. Why do you continue to write?

Because it’s who I am. I love it. I’m not exaggerating. I’m terrified at the prospect of not writing. That’s who I am. That’s what I do.

What about those TV gigs? Plenty of scribes in the press box wouldn’t mind trading places and paychecks with you.

I’m happy with what I do for ESPN. I’m grateful to do it. It’s fun. The fun level for PTI is a 10. The satisfaction level is a 9. But is that who I am? No. I aspired to be a columnist, not a talker on television. I didn’t grow up with that.

What is it about the creative process of writing a column?

You can’t develop a thought on TV. You have to go to something else. It’s sound bites. It’s 140 characters. It’s tidbits. I kid Bill Simmons about writing 6,000 word columns. You don’t necessarily have to do that, but with a column you get a chance to develop a thought.

I go out of my way to write because I still love it. I live in complete fear every day that I’m not as good at it.

How so?

I went to the Olympics and wrote every day. 20 columns. I loved it, but that’s it. I’m not going to do the Olympics anymore. The writing is harder now. Now I know what the coaches mean about getting the reps.

Once I wrote 230 columns in a year at the Post. Another year, it was 208. When you go down to 80, you’re not going to be as good at it. The words don’t come as quickly on deadline.

At the Bears game Sunday, I told the driver to pick me up at midnight. I walked downstairs at 12:28. It took me an hour-and-half to write that column. That’s twice as long to write what I used to write. And I worried all night, was it any good?

What if they asked you to go to Brazil for the Olympics in 2016?

In four years? Are you kidding? I won’t be able to produce any copy. It’ll take me a week to write a column.

How come you’re writing mainly for and not for

They’ve got a ton of people over there. I’m not anyone. I’m just a guy who argues on TV.

My first thought  when I (started writing for ESPN) was that I would do more national stuff. I don’t think anyone cares or wants me to. I did not think it would evolve in this direction. I still do some pieces that run nationally. They’ll call me and, ‘Can you write a big picture piece (for’ But I’m glad it worked out this way because I care about what goes on in Chicago.

So you’ll be in San Francisco for the Bears game Monday?

I volunteer to cover stuff if ( is going to be there. The writing still is important to me.








Q/A with Jay Mariotti: On two years out of spotlight; his side of what happened on that night and aftermath; and his next step

The email in my inbox had a familiar name: Jay Mariotti.

Earlier that day a couple weeks ago, I had written a post about Mariotti. I wondered why he had taken two years off and if anybody would hire him again?

The email read: “You’re welcome to ask me questions. Don’t have to guess when I can give you context.”

Mariotti has a point. If I am going to comment and speculate about him, I should allow him to give his side. That’s the way I operate.

I followed up, asking if he was up for doing a Q/A. Prior to sending out questions, I did read his book on Amazon, The System: A Manual on Surviving Liars, Loons, Law, Life. Much of the book is Mariotti’s account of a domestic violence incident with a woman he was dating in 2010. He gives a condensed version in this Q/A.

Mariotti has been mostly on the sidelines ever since. However, he says he is ready to jump back in, and that there are opportunities out there for him. And if you think Mariotti has mellowed, well, guess again.

So here is “context” from Mariotti.

Why have you been off for two years? Obviously, you know the speculation out there. People don’t believe it is by choice.

Mariotti: “People” need to stop guessing when they really have no clue about me and what’s happening in my life. How irresponsible is that? They don’t realize what a great life I have here in Los Angeles. As I write this, I’m sitting under a blue sky by the pool in Santa Monica, with the ocean a few yards away. I read, write, ride my bike and work out here every day. Not really missing two bogus Sun-Times deadlines in Green Bay, eating bratwurst at halftime and getting back to Chicago at 4 a.m. That was a kamikaze mission for a failing newspaper — this is the good life.

When I’ve written more than 6,000 columns, done 1,800 TV shows on ESPN and 1,000 radio shows, covered 14 Olympics and 24 Super Bowls and dozens of golf majors and seen the world — and made a very comfortable living doing so — what possibly is wrong with voluntarily taking some time off in a beautiful place? I’m fortunate to not have to work, and I’ve taken advantage and cleared my head with two wonderful years away from the media business. I’ve had a rewarding and successful career, and not unlike some people in sports and Hollywood, I’m chilling until the opportunities are just right. I poured about 50 years of hard work into two decades. I’m preparing wisely for my next two decades in media.

Taking this break HAS been my choice, and whatever the speculation is, I can’t say I care when my two daughters are healthy and well and I don’t have to work for a corrupt Chicago newspaper as I did for 17 years. I’ve never been in better physical shape, and I’ll be back in sports media when the timing is right.

And just because I haven’t worked in sports media doesn’t mean I haven’t worked. I’m thick into a documentary project, for instance, and being in L.A. has opened new avenues to creativity. I’ve spoken to virtually all the big players in national sports media, including some the last few weeks. Right now, I’m mulling over three possibilities — all terrific jobs. If they happen, great. If not, Mumford & Sons are coming to the Hollywood Bowl next week. I would pay to see Alvin and the Chipmunks at the Hollywood Bowl — not exactly Tinley Park, you know?

Why did you decide to do the ChicagoSide columns? What was the reaction?

Jon Eig, the editor, is a best-selling author who wants to do a smart, responsible sports site. I like smart, responsible sports sites because there are too many bad, amateur-hour sites that are sludging up the business like rat feces. Jon asked me to do pieces when the urge strikes. He said the reaction has been great and the site traffic off the charts. I suggested a piece on the White Sox when they were in first place so I could show people I’m not the anti-Christ of the South Side.

What happened? The Sox choked out here in Anaheim and faded away. I had to write it. Can’t win with that franchise.

Jon then suggested a piece on why I still love sportswriting. It attracted national attention, and I did an hour on Sirius/XM Radio about it. No doubt I still resonate, and I very much appreciate all the nice words from folks.

Do you want to work again? And in what capacity?

Again, I have been “working” — I’m doing documentary work, wrote a detailed book about my career and court case and have a standing offer to do another book. When I regularly return to the sports media, I assume it will be in a mutimedia capacity — TV, radio, writing. And maybe for more than one employer — I’ve always worked for two or three at a time.

Have there been any previous offers? If so, why did you turn them down?

Yes. I’ve turned down some sports media things. One would have required a cross-country move to do a daily afternoon-drive radio show. Another involved a book that didn’t interest me. Someone wanted me to invest in a restaurant — thought about it, said no. I’d actually like to be a roadie for the Black Keys, but they haven’t asked. I have an agent out here at Octagon, a Chicago native. He talks to people all the time about me.

How have/will your legal issues impact your ability to get hired? For lack of a better word, are you “tainted”?

That’s a fine word. And the answer is no, I’m not tainted. Anyone who knows the real story, as I’ve written in meticulous detail in my Amazon/Kindle book, knows I was victimized by a system that enabled a troubled and vindictive woman to lie about me, abuse me and stalk me in the neighborhood in which I live. I’m pleased that top executives at some major media companies have taken time to read the book — one said it was commendable that I spent many months trying to help the woman, who was broke and had personal problems after being fired from her advertising job and going through a divorce.

Ever see “Fatal Attraction,” the movie? I often felt like Michael Douglas. But that doesn’t matter in post-O.J. Simpson L.A., where even a battered man doesn’t stand a chance when a couple is arguing on a street and a third-party witness calls 911. Prosecutors saw an opportunity for a quick series of headlines in the L.A. Times. They never wanted to hear my side of the story; they just funneled me through a preliminary hearing and left it up to me to take it to a trial, not caring about the invaluable witnesses we brought to the courtroom and my $250,000 in legal expenses, plenty of which made its way to a financially ailing city via outrageous court costs. I could have taken the case to trial, but what a circus that would have been. How do I know a jury wouldn’t profile me unfairly, as an opinionated ESPN commentator of Italian heritage, and assume guilt regardless of the truth? I chose to take a no-contest plea bargain for one low-level misdemeanor, which allowed this person to stalk me in attempts to entrap me and cause me more trouble.

It appeared I was headed back to work for AOL, where I was the lead sports columnist. It was the best job in the business, with unlimited travel and terrific camaraderie among the staffers, unlike the Sun-Times insane asylum. But the company suddenly cut me a large financial settlement while not telling me or anyone else that it was dumping the sports site while doing a lucrative deal with Arianna Huffington. I was not “fired” because of this court case. That hasn’t stopped sleazy bloggers from writing otherwise. Wish these guys would take some journalism classes and stop being reckless gossips.

Since then, the woman and her attorneys have demanded money. I have refused to pay a cent. If my fellow journalists do their due diligence instead of just assuming I’m guilty — or, worse, WANTING to assume I’m guilty — then they’ll see what this was: a desperate money grab. I was put through a hellish ordeal despite never going to jail or pleading guilty. I was exploited as a public figure, lied about by bloggers who don’t corroborate their wild guesses — one said I was going to jail for 12 years — and harassed by lawyers who wanted to make a quick buck in a settlement. I’m proud to say I didn’t budge, but that decision still hurt me because the woman then told more lies to police and prosecutors, who were all ears. All of these details are in my book. Thank God it’s over, and shame on the legal system for allowing the chaos to interrupt my life.

Everyone makes mistakes — and mine was getting involved with a person who clearly was using me. It’s no coincidence that since I wrote the book, everyone has gone away — lawyers, prosecutors, the person herself — while the presiding judge says he is strongly considering an expungement of the entire case so that it’s completely wiped off my otherwise clean record. In more than two decades of marriage, we never had such problems in a loving, peaceful household in suburban Chicago. The LAPD is reckless. The system out here is a money-gouging, plea-bargain machine. And it didn’t help that the Times — owned by the Chicago Tribune, my rival for 17 years — was basically re-running the district attorney’s press releases.

I don’t hit women — never have, never will. As the father of two daughters, I abhor domestic abuse. In truth, I was the one abused in the relationship; one night, she punched me 22 times in the chest, right against the stent inserted during my 2007 heart attack. I’ve discussed all of this on two Fox Sports podcasts and in a Sirius/XM interview. I’ve written a book about it. Now it’s time for everyone to move on and realize that men, too, can be victims of domestic abuse. Sometimes life can be so messed up, you have no choice but to smile, be happy that you and your loved ones are well and just enjoy another beautiful day in paradise.

I read your book and your version of what went down. However, the vast majority of people won’t read your book. All they know is that you were involved in a domestic violence incident. Is there any way for you to undo that perception about you?

The book manuscript was sent to a couple of thousand people — family members, friends and media. While it’s available on Amazon, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to aggressively market it. It’s a for-the-record narrative that corrects the preposterous lies and reckless investigative work. Once I return to the media, I assume more people will read it. I just want it out there to counter all the lies that were reported.

Perception? Only two people know what actually happened. One is a successful sports media personality with two successful, well-adjusted daughters; the other was broke, jobless, abusive and emotionally unbalanced. Shame on anyone else who pretends to know more than they do, which is nothing.

And who says no one is reading the book? The numbers were excellent initially, but when you change the pricing and update content on Amazon, the sales numbers start over. I wasn’t consciously monitoring sales, but one day, an alert popped up and said I’d cracked the top 30 among media authors, ahead of Dan Rather and Chuck Klosterman. My mother must have bought extra copies that day.

You wrote columns about athletes involved in domestic violence issues. Has your perspective changed? I’m coming at it from the angle of the rush to judgement and people not knowing both sides of the story, as you feel was the case in what happened to you.

Uh, remember Tiger Woods and the SUV? I wrote that night that we shouldn’t rush to judgment. Turns out I was too soft initially on his marital infidelities, which shows it’s wrong to categorize me as an impulsive hatchet man. I’ve criticized athletes for many transgressions, and most deserved it. But I sure will think twice — or maybe three or four times — before assuming guilt in the future.

Yes, after my first brush with the law in 50 years of life, I now have a keener understanding of how the truth can be manipulated for financial motives. I’ve met a few bad people in my life, many in the media or wanting a piece of my wealth as a media person. Away from the public eye, it has been nice to meet terrific people.

Could you write a column about domestic violence given what happened to you?

No one is better qualified. I know what it’s like to be physically abused. Remember Chuck Finley, the former major-league pitcher? People in sports laughed when he was abused by Tawny Kitaen, the actress. Well, guess what? It’s 2012. Men are abused, too, by women who know they can manipulate the system. Know how many times I wanted to call the police or a hotel front desk? I couldn’t because I worried about the fallout, even if the headline might say, “ESPN analyst accuses woman of domestic abuse.” Even that would have been frowned upon in Bristol. Such is the pressure.

How do you feel about ESPN?

I’ve been to Bristol twice this year. Starting with John Skipper, they’ve been very supportive. The network has a zero-tolerance behavorial policy because of its powerful brand name and recent issues with personnel, and I made the mistake of not getting out of a toxic relationship when I knew a person could hurt me professionally. I always had been extra-careful about my associations in the public eye, but I had a blind spot in this case. ESPN had every right to be disappointed in me, but our chats have been very positive.

I am concerned about the network and its ability, with so many business deals in place with sports leagues, to let its commentators have editorial freedom. That might be a bigger issue in my situation than you think. People such as Bud Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf weren’t happy I was on a five-day-a-week TV show on the flagship, and if ESPN really did reject Stan Van Gundy because David Stern didn’t want him on the air, I’m frightened for the network’s future. Somehow, I lasted eight years there.

For now, I’d like Adam Schefter and Kirk Herbstreit to stop posing in front of those little football helmets in their home-office studios. They look like little kids. What will we see next, their Hot Wheels collections?

Much has happened in the last two years in our industry. What stands out for you?

A softening of commentary. Rather than writing the tough piece for the readers, too many writers are writing marshmallowy crap for each other. And those with the guts to speak their minds with conviction — Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith — are maligned for it. Please. When did the business become so mushy? Are people that scared for their jobs? On the sleazy side of the spectrum are these numbnuts who put $12,000 in a paper bag for alleged pictures of Brett Favre’s penis. I hope that blogger’s parents are proud of him, but I doubt it.

More distressing is the lack of investigative sports journalism. Other than the new USA Today initiative, documentaries and profiles on HBO, the New York Times and a few people at Yahoo, who is busting big stories?

You wonder why I’ve taken my time returning. It’s not as if sports media is a sacred cause. There are some good, genuine, honest people in the business. But there are more sellouts, creeps, liars, cowards and lazy asses.

Do you think you still have your fastball? After being out for two years, do you think you’ll be able to summon the same fire/passion for a topic.

Theo Epstein is a fraud.

Curt Schilling should be in jail.

Too many people are piling on Lance Armstrong and forgetting the great work he has done in the cancer fight, which still outweighs his shame as a juicer.

The Bulls are doing Derrick Rose an injustice by not surrounding him with better talent. Why do the Lakers have four major stars and the Bulls one? When did Chicago stop acting like a major market?

Without Michael Jordan, whom he inherited, Jerry Reinsdorf would be 1-for-62 as a sports owner. That percentage would make him a bum if he owned teams in his native New York.

Until the Bears beat a real good team, slow down on the Super Bowl jabber. I still don’t trust Cutler and Lovie in the biggest moments.

The Sun-Times will die in 2013. The Tribune will die in 2015.

Fastball up near 100.

Will you be working in 2013?

Yep, assuming I’m alive.






Q/A with ‘Benji’ directors: New 30 for 30 has dramatic interview with Wilson’s killer; powerful message about youth violence

What did I just see?

While watching a screening of ESPN’s new 30 for 30 Benji (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET), I nearly fell out of my seat about 2/3s into the film.

The documentary recalls the tragic story of Ben Wilson, the No. 1 ranked high school player in the country who was shot down outside his Chicago high school prior to the start of the 1984 season. A 6-8 guard, Wilson drew comparisons to Magic Johnson.

It was a senseless act of violence that rocked Chicago and became a huge national story (opening from the film, below). More than 10,000 people attended Wilson’s funeral.

I covered the story for the Chicago Tribune. While the film was powerful and extremely moving, much of the content was familiar territory for me.

And then appeared the last person I expected to see.

Suddenly, there was Billy Moore, the high school boy who killed Ben Wilson. The kid who broke so many hearts and caused so much pain.

I had to do a double-take. Was it really him? Why was Moore dressed in civilian clothes? Was Moore speaking from prison?

It turns out Moore served 20 years in prison and now works as a youth counselor. He even was cited in a White House ceremony in 2009 as an example of rehabilitation.

In the film, Moore tells his version of what happened on that tragic day. He claims it was an altercation that got out of hand and that Wilson was more of the protagonist.

Whatever, Moore had a gun and used it to kill an innocent person.

Moore said he regrets what happened and how he wasn’t that kind of person. Clearly, he has turned his life around.

Yet I couldn’t help feel the anger about the life Ben Wilson never got to live. I’m sure many people will feel the same way watching the film tonight.

I had a chance to talk with Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah, co-directors of the film. Simmons grew up on those rough Chicago streets and was 13 when Wilson died.

I wanted to know about the film, but first I had to ask him about the interview with Moore.

Here’s my Q/A:

How did you land that interview with Moore?

Simmons: One of Ben’s friends, Mike Walton, knew somebody who knew Billy. Billy called and said OK.

Really, one of Wilson’s best friends helped set you up with the interview?

Simmons: Yes, they understand what happened. They forgave him.

(Note: I am told Wilson’s friends hugged him after a screening in Chicago.)

How did the interview go?

Simmons: We just related. We’re both from the streets of Chicago. There’s a certain way you move around. He felt comfortable because of the things I went through.

Did you feel any anger in talking to Moore? What he did devastated the lives of a lot of people.

Simmons: I didn’t feel any anger towards him. He never wanted to shoot anybody. He destroyed his life. He said, ‘That wasn’t me.’

I know people who have been shot. I know people who actually have shot people.

When I was that age, we had guns. You felt like you needed one. You felt safe with it. I thought it was natural. This is what it was like in the inner-city. You’ve got to protect yourself.

I understand that could have been me.

It’s been 28 years since Wilson died. Why does his story still resonate today?

Simmons: It hit me a like a family member. I used to sneak in to watch him play. He was this great basketball player who was going to make it.

This was like Superman getting shot. ‘Wait a minute, This isn’t supposed to happen.’

When it happened, everyone came together. He actually changed lives in 1984. For this film, we thought we could bring that same kind of peace by telling his story.

How good was he? Has his legend been exaggerated in death?

Simmons: Everyone said he was Magic Johnson with a jump shot.

Ozah: The one thing that seemed constant from talking to everyone was how good he was. The kid was something special.

Wilson’s girlfriend and mother of his son and his son weren’t in the film. Why?

Ozah: We had some ups and downs with them. The final decision was they didn’t want to do it.

What do you hope people take from this film?

Ozah: I hope these young kids who are carrying guns look at the consequences of what could happen. Hopefully, they’ll step back and see that it isn’t cool.

Simmons: Usually you hear about the person who got killed. You don’t usually hear from the person (who committed the murder). What did he go through? What did he put his family through?

That’s why it was so important to have him in the story. Billy is the one who is going to reach those kids. He’s going to be the one who has the impact.















Will Jay Mariotti ever land another big-time gig? Says he still loves sportswriting

Jay Mariotti is back–sort of.

The former Chicago Sun-Times columnist wrote his third column this morning for ChicagoSide. The headline read: “Mariotti: Why I Still Love Sportswriting.”

He writes:

Why continue to embrace a craft that literally almost killed me, a profession currently diluted by so many unskilled bloggers and corporate suckups that it has lost much of its soul?

My answer remains the same as it has for three decades: Because I still love sports, and because I still love to write. Sports + writing = sportswriter.

His love letter continues:

After all the madness, all the liars and loons, why would I want to continue writing about sports? Wouldn’t I rather be a factory worker in China? An elephant sperm collector? Not a chance.

There’s no better place on the literary landscape that regularly strikes every nerve on the emotional spectrum, where the best commentators can profile a wonderful moment as easily as they rage over the latest scandal, where the essence of it all—you’re-wrong-and-I’m-right debate—remains a vital American exercise that turns ESPN rabble-rousers Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith into polarizing national figures.

And more love:

The ongoing dramas of organized competition reflect life in its rawest form—meaning nothing, really, to the ultimate condition of the world yet evoking mass reaction that keeps emotional juices flowing like no other genre. What would you want me to write about, Obama and Romney? My subjective objectivity would be shot down as biased by rotten political media types with agendas. Music? Yeah, I want to try explaining the Katy Perry phenomenon. Business? Only if fortified by a steady stream of Zoloft. Hollywood? Phonies everywhere.

There’s a reason, through history, why so many acclaimed writers have chosen sports or dabbled in it. Simply, it offers the meatiest subject matter with some of the highest readership.

Clearly, Mariotti wants back in. ChicagoSide, headed by Jonathan Eig, whose work includes excellent books on Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson, is giving him the platform for now.

While ChicagoSide does a nice job as a new site that offers a menu of diverse stories, Mariotti, who lives in Los Angeles, wants a bigger stage. And make no mistake: He is available.

Is he is reaching out to some outlets here?:

For every punk hack trying to increase hit totals by ripping an ESPN sportscaster, there thankfully are places such as The New York Times, USA Today and that have moved into the digital era by doing sports journalism the right way.

Later, he writes:

Someone asked if I prefer to have my old jobs back. Nope. I want my new job—multimedia in nature, commenting at large, dictated by the most important stories instead of each day’s news.

Finally, Mariotti concludes:

I hope Mr. Eig now understands why sports writing is a lifelong passion for me, assuming my life lasts much longer. Why do I like it? Because I’m pretty good at it, when others are not. And because I still know why sports matter, when others do not.

Mariotti writes in the piece, “I’ve merrily taken two years off in L.A. to recharge for the next 25.”

Merrily? I hope that’s the case, for Mariotti’s sake. But people who know him suspect two years on the sidelines has been very difficult. Jay doesn’t just chill.

From what I’ve heard, Mariotti wants to work again. Make that: Needs to work again.

But will anyone hire him? He still has that domestic violence incident with a former girlfriend that derailed his career. It hangs out there, regardless of what Mariotti claims really happened. He wrote an e-book, The System: A Manual on Surviving Liars, Loons, Law, Life, which is available on Amazon.

It’s been two years. Why isn’t he back to work on a full-time gig? Is it because of his own choice, or because nobody has called? Or nobody has called with the right offer?

Say what you will about him, Mariotti is a gifted writer and a polarizing figure who can command the room. But will a large entity give him another chance?

Mariotti is awaiting your call.





Payton book in paperback: Author hopes for a second chance in Chicago

Jeff Pearlman hopes release of his Walter Payton biography in paperback this week will help right a wrong, especially in Chicago.

When excerpts of Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton ran in Sports Illustrated last fall, Pearlman was vilified. It couldn’t have been worse if he dressed in green and gold and staged a Green Bay Packers rally on Michigan Ave.

The excerpt detailed Payton’s troubled life after football; addiction to painkillers, issues with depression, affairs and a non-existent marriage. It hardly was the picture Bears fans saw of the valiant warrior during a spectacular 13-year career.

Reaction was harsh in Chicago. Mike Ditka said he would “spit” on the book. Everyone follows “Da Coach” here and you could have filled Lake Michigan with all the saliva. Not a pretty image.

“To me, it was crushing,” Pearlman said.

Pearlman tried to do damage control. He did numerous interviews in Chicago, pleading with people to read the entire book. He said there was much more than the SI excerpts.

Indeed, the book is meticulously reported, detailing with the incredible highs and lows of Payton’s entire life. Once people read the book, it received rave reviews and landed on the New York Times’ bestseller list.

Now with the paperback edition coming out, Pearlman hopes the critics in Chicago will give the book a second chance. Here’s my Q/A.

How did you feel about the initial reaction to the book in Chicago?

To be honest, I thought I was treated unfairly in Chicago. One anchor on the news did a report and then literally shook her head and said, ‘Shameful, shameful.’

(Chicago Tribune columnist) John Kass became my least favorite media figure in Chicago. I felt like he was another guy who didn’t read the book. I called and emailed him to see if he ever read the book. I offered to send him a copy of the book. He never responded.

I think Michael Wilbon is great, excellent. But he questioned my motives. He said it was all about money.

Nobody read the book (beyond the SI excerpts). In today’s media world, we need to turn it around really quick. ‘What’s your take on this?’ People just read the excerpt and said, ‘How dare he?’ To me, it was crushing.

What kind of reaction did you get once people read the book?

I received a number of apologies over Twitter and Email. I had never experienced anything like it before.

When the book first came out, I got a lot of ‘To hell with you,’ and much more vulgar stuff that I won’t get into.

About a month later, I got a number of notes that said, ‘You know what, I owe you an apology. I was wrong. That was a great book.’

Many people think SI’s choice of excerpts hurt you and the book. What do you think?

I used to think something different, but I don’t feel that way anymore. I thought the excerpts showed a fascinating part of his life. I thought the depression he suffered was pretty telling, especially with what we know now (about concussions). If I was editor of Sports Illustrated, I would have gone with the same excerpts too.

You have said that you came to love Walter Payton more after writing the book. Yet for many of us in Chicago, your details of how he treated some people and other issues made us love him less. Please explain your view.

Walter was aware of his shortcomings. He wanted to be righteous, but he didn’t know how to go about it.

He knew what he meant to people in Chicago. It was very important for them to view him in a positive light. He never wanted people to know about his depression.

You always think, ‘If I could have this guy’s life, that would be awesome. What does he have to complain about?’

Walter had a lot to complain about. I had sympathy for him. I realize it wasn’t easy being him.

Now that it is out in paperback, what do you say to Payton’s fans who initially passed on buying the hardcover edition?

I understand that people want their heroes to be heroes, or that they care only about what happens on the field.

But this guy had an amazingly fascinating life beyond football. There was a lot to him. Just because somebody had hard times doesn’t mean you still can’t appreciate him. It doesn’t mean you should change your perception of him.

For more with Pearlman, here is an interview he did with Steven Bennett on last week’s edition of the Sports-Casters. The interview begins at the 1:40 mark.








Saturday flashback: Interview with LeBron James at 16; check out the hair

Before all the hoopla, LeBron James was just a high school kid with an earring and a big mound of hair.

Actually, he never was a normal kid, given all of his talents that were noticed early on. But a Fox Sports Ohio interview with Kerry Sayers (now in Chicago) gives an interesting early glimpse of a young James as he entered his junior year. He talks about prom and his friends. And he had plenty of confidence.

Forget about records: Horrible Cubs-disappointing Red Sox game still gets Buck-McCarver treatment from Fox

I asked Tim McCarver a simple question:

When was the last time he and Joe Buck worked a game in mid-June featuring two last-place teams and with one of those teams having the worst record in baseball?

McCarver replied: “I don’t know. I can’t think of one.”

Fox Sports’ No. 1 crew will be on hand for tonight’s game, which will go out to 39 percent of the country. The telecast will be about the uniqueness of the two historic franchises playing a game and the ivy of Wrigley Field.

Forget about the records. Please, especially in Chicago where the Cubs are epic bad.

“There’s something about these two teams playing in Wrigley Field,” McCarver said.

Clearly, it isn’t the best match-up Saturday. The top game is the Yankees at Washington. So why not primetime for that game?

According to Fox, there are limitations on appearances for the Yankees, and the schedule for the primetime games had to be locked up prior to the season. Thus, Cubs-Red Sox.

Get ready to hear plenty of stories of Boston pitcher Babe Ruth beating the Cubs in the 1918 World Series.



Sunday bookshelf: Ozzie’s School of Management; Kruk teaches him art of F-word

In Rick Morrissey’s new book, Ozzie’s School of Management, the most used word begins with F; second is a word that begins with “mother.”

The Chicago Sun-Times columnist, and my former colleague at the Chicago Tribune, chronicles the unique management style of Ozzie Guillen. The book focuses on Guillen’s tumultuous final season in Chicago and lays the foundation for his first year in Miami. It foreshadows the eventual controversy that erupted following Guillen’s comments about Fidel Castro.

It’s a fascinating read, and I’m going to have more on the book in a future interview with Morrissey. Last Sunday, the Sun-Times ran an excerpt. It details how John Kruk taught Guillen the art of swearing when both were young players in the San Diego farm system. At the time, Guillen, a native of Venezuela, knew little English. Thanks to Kruk, two words soon became prominent in his vocabulary.

Here are some of the excerpts of the excerpt.

Kruk would like to formally apologize. ‘‘I take 100 percent responsibility,’’ he said, chuckling. Few people in major-league baseball drop more F-bombs than Ozzie Guillen, and none do it with his dexterity. He might have learned the word during rookie ball in 1981, but he learned all of its combinations, tenses, applications and nuances from Kruk, who was his teammate for three years in the minors, starting in Reno, Nevada, in 1982.

‘‘He learned how to use it in a lot of different ways — a verb, an adverb, a noun, a pronoun,’’ Kruk said. ‘‘It was free-flowing. I apologize to people for that part of Ozzie’s life. I feel like it is my fault.’’

So, yes, we have discovered the person who taught Guillen the many uses of the word f—. It’s like finding out who first put a paintbrush  in Michelangelo’s hand.

‘‘He taught me all the wrong things,’’ Guillen said, smiling.

Later, Kruk said.

‘‘A lot of Latin players, when they come over here, they’re intimidated by the language and the culture,’’ he said. ‘‘Ozzie embraced it. He wanted to learn. He was eager to learn. He was asking questions — believe me — nonstop.

‘‘I have two young children now. The ‘Why, why, why’ and the ‘Why, Daddy?’ — that was Ozzie to me. ‘Why Krukie? Why this, Krukie? Why that, Krukie? What happened here, Krukie? Tell me this, Krukie.’ I was like, ‘Oh, God.’ It’s like what you do with your kids. You give them some candy, and maybe they’ll be happy for a little while. But I didn’t have any candy to give Ozzie.”





Jordan looks forward to Ryder Cup; Rolfing show focuses on Chicago

Michael Jordan doesn’t do much in the way of sit down interviews these days. Especially if the questions are about the Charlotte Bobcats.

However, there are two reasons why Mark Rolfing got a chat with him; he is good friends with the basketball legend and the subject was the Ryder Cup.

An interview with Jordan will be featured on the latest edition of Rolfing’s Global Golf Adventure, which airs Saturday on NBC at 1 p.m. ET. The show focuses on the Ryder Cup coming to Chicago in September.

The Ryder Cup is Jordan’s favorite sporting event. He never misses it. And with the Ryder Cup in Chicago, where he remains a sporting God, and at Medinah Country Club, where he is a member, you can bet he will receive plenty of love from NBC’s cameras.

Said Jordan during the interview with Rolfing:

“I think it’’s a great, great sports town for all sports, not just basketball.  For football, the Bears have been strong for years, you have the competition, the rivalry between the Cubs and the White Sox, and you know obviously the Bulls have made its impact, even the hockey team has been just as strong. The fans are so passionate there in Chicago and I think they’’re truly going to enjoy the Ryder Cup. If they have never been, they are going to see an unbelievable event. And for me, it’’s truly a highlight.

The show also features interviews with “Mr. Cub”, Ernie Banks, and Dustin Johnson.