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

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 ESPNChicago.com. 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 ESPNChicago.com and not for ESPN.com?

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 ESPN.com)?’ 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 (ESPNChicago.com) is going to be there. The writing still is important to me.