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.






Mariotti reappears with Bears column on Chicago site

If several Chicago-area athletes, coaches and owners woke up with a headache Monday (Jerry Reinsdorf probably had a migraine), here’s the reason: Jay Mariotti is back.

Well, sort of.

The former Chicago Sun-Times columnist reappeared in ChicagoSide, a relatively new site launched by Jonathan Eig. He weighed in from California on the Bears-Packers game.

It was typical Jay. He even professed to want to be positive, but that other Jay (Cutler) spoiled the mood.

Preparing for this article last week, I was hoping the Bears would beat the Packers and allow me to share in some rare warm-and-fuzzy glow. But in my 17 years as a Sun-Times sports columnist, topicality and necessity forced me into the corners of harsh reality way too often. This column is no different. I’ll be accused of Mariotti negativity, and some people will complain just so they can have something to be mad about. But so what?

Besides, it may take the heat off another Jay.

As for how Mariotti wound up writing for ChicagoSide, Eig said, “It is simple.”

“I invited him to submit a story if he ever felt the urge,” said Eig in an email. “He submitted one and I liked it. I don’t know if he’ll write for us again, but if he produces additional stories as good as this one, I’d be pleased to have them.”

Mariotti is pictured in a relaxed pose, an empty beer glass in his hand with the Pacific in the distance.

Life is good, right?

Mariotti has been in relative obscurity ever since a domestic violence incident cost him high-profile jobs with AOL Fanhouse and on ESPN’s Around the Horn.

Here’s what his bio says on ChicagoSide:

He lives in Los Angeles where he works on media projects. His recent e-book about his life and media career, “The System: A Manual on Surviving Liars, Loons, Law, Life,” is available on Amazon.com.

Here’s a link to the book. The cover features a sunset, an odd choice considering the hard-hitting title.

Perhaps Mariotti has mellowed out and is enjoying the good life in LA, drinking beers by the ocean. It represents quite a lifestyle change from the columnist who would have written three columns per day if given the chance.

It’ll be interesting to see if Mariotti does more for ChicagoSide. It definitely won’t be for the money, because ChicagoSide doesn’t operate that way.

Rather, I expect Mariotti will do it so he can be heard again. He’s been silent for a long time.