Tag Archives: Steve Rushin

A post I hate writing: The sad, slow decline of Sports Illustrated. A powerful new ad about texting and driving. And a Red Sox outfielder makes the catch of the year.

Most of the posts I write on here, I think about for a day or two, then write them. If it’s a political rant, sometimes there’s not as much thought that goes into it because I’m mad about something. But rarely do I let a post marinate in my head for weeks at a time like this one.

I’ve really, really not wanted to write about the decline of my favorite magazine of all time, Sports Illustrated. I’ve been in complete denial about it for years, but thanks to a few recent events which I’ll get to in a minute, I have to stop lying to myself.
SI is dying. It was dying slowly, and now it seems to be happening more quickly. And it makes me so, so sad. If you’ll indulge me, a short love story to one of my first-ever loves.

The first issue of Sports Illustrated I ever received was the Dec. 24-31, 1984 Sportsman of the Year issue, with Mary Lou Retton and Edwin Moses on the cover. I turned 9 in 1984, and my grandpa Don, knowing how much I loved sports, got me a gift subscription.

I’ve been a subscriber ever since. For 33 years now. When my grandfather died in 1995, I took over paying for the subscription, and never once have I let it lapse. I grew up worshiping, studying, memorizing SI. I saved every issue for years, can still recite some stories from the 1987 “One Day in Baseball” issue, and a 1996 profile of troubled basketball star Richie Parker by Gary Smith is still the best magazine piece I’ve ever read.

I looked up and tried to pattern myself after so many SI writers; people like Rick Reilly, Smith, Leigh Montville, Steve Rushin, Jack McCallum… these men were my idols. Once I wrote a letter to the editor and it got published; I didn’t stop smiling for days. One day early in my journalism career I submitted a “They Said It” for the Scorecard section, it got published, and I got a check for $75. No payment I’ve ever received has meant more to me.

So, yeah… I was obsessed with Sports Illustrated. My dream, always, was to work there one day, but I never was quite able to summit that personal Everest.
Still, even though I didn’t make it there, I still enjoyed and devoured every issue. It was the Bible for this Jewish kid from New York.

In recent years, though, the magazine has fallen. First, they made tons of layoffs, getting rid of super-talented writers. Then, the quality began to drop; major articles weren’t written by established, seasoned scribes, but by young writers not quite as good. There was, and still is, some tremendous talent at SI; writers like Lee Jenkins and Chris Ballard are as good as any writers SI has ever had.

But the issues are fewer every year, the magazine gets thinner and thinner, and they’re clearly searching for the magic again. I’m writing this post now, finally, because of three things:

This article says that after publishing only 38 issues in 2017, it’s possible there’ll be a reduction to 24 issues in 2018. SI used to publish 52 issues a year.

— Lately the magazine has been getting into bed with a lot of corporate sponsors, doing “branded content” and partnering with sponsors. This led to this week’s cover (above), which was completely done for Gatorade, as SI put Gatorade’s High School Athletes of the Year on the cover.

I absolutely understand it’s an economic reality forced upon Sports Illustrated by other market forces. I do. But this bastion of journalistic integrity, a home of independent journalism for 60 years, now takes money from sponsors, and in return, puts two high school kids on the cover. It makes me sad.

— And finally, most painful of all, the errors in stories, once almost impossible to find, now show up in every issue. Not trying to embarrass anyone, but in the most recent issue, a coach whose last name is “Harwood” is called “Hammond.” Twice.

That never, never used to happen. It’s happening now because SI has far fewer copy-editors and fact checkers looking at what goes into the magazine. There are legendary stories of bleary-eyed young SI reporters having to call football coaches to verify that they drove a 1987 blue Chevy Nova, not a brown one.

Now, not so much.

I know SI will limp along for a few more years, and I still read many of their writers on its website. But seeing SI struggle this much, and change, is like losing a little beloved piece of my life.

I know it’ll never go back to its glory days. But it’s a damn shame what my Bible has become.

**Next up today, every once in a while you see an ad so powerful that it leaves your mouth agape. Almost all of us are guilty of texting while driving, or walking. I try very hard not to do it anymore, but occasionally at a red light, I’m guilty.

Watch this short ad, produced by South Africa’s Western Cape government, all the way until the end, and you’ll think twice before reaching for the phone when behind the wheel.

**And finally today, posting a positive highlight of a Boston Red Sox player goes against everything I believe in, normally, but sometimes, greatness must be acknowledged.

Check out this ridiculous catch by Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr., robbing the Yankees’ Aaron Judge on Sunday. Bradley knew he had it like five steps before making the leap. Pretty amazing.

Still, for my money, this is the greatest catch I’ve ever seen. Ken Griffey Jr., man, was he amazing.

A sensational story of a Muslim doctor, explaining Islam in rural Minnesota. “Master of None” was superb in Season 2. And Steve Rushin, writing master craftsman, opens the curtain a little

Hope you all had a wonderful Independence Day; the Lewis family sure did. Had a terrific time at a playground in Central Park with our little man, then a picnic lunch under a big ole’ tree in Central Park, followed by dinner and watching fireworks from our window. Macy’s fireworks have been in the same place (over the East River) for the last four years, but somehow the view from our bedroom window was much, much better than in past years. Anyway, it was a great day. Life is awesome.

Two excellent pieces of writing/journalism to share today, sandwiched around a fabulous TV show we just finished watching.

First, from the Washington Post, comes this beautifully reported and told story by Stephanie McCrummen. It’s about a Muslim doctor in Minnesota named Ayaz Virji, who several years ago moved to a small town in the state and was welcomed warmly.

Then, the 2016 election happened, and things changed quite a bit. Now, Virji feels cold shoulders and stares where he goes, and to help combat the anti-Islam feeling that suddenly seems pervasive around him, he’s gone around to three small towns in Minnesota to essentially, explain the truth about Islam.

“Ayaz wasn’t sure (explaining Islam) was his responsibility, but how else would people learn?” she writes.

The story takes several surprising turns, and is absolutely beautifully written by McCrummen. Read this for a look at one small way 2016’s election changed everything.

**Next up, my wife and I just finished binge-ing Season 2 of the sublimely excellent Netflix series “Master of None.” I raved about Season 1 last year, because Aziz Ansari’s look at love, food, New York City, religion and everything else that interests him was so fresh and new.

Season 2, which was released two months ago, is miles better. Ten episodes, of varying length and subject matter, explore so many things that broadcast television wouldn’t touch. There’s an entire episode about Ansari’s character Dev explaining to his family that he’s not a devout Muslim anymore. There’s a fantastic, Woody Allen movie-esque episode of three different slices of life for New York City residents, starring a group of foreign-born cabdrivers, a deaf couple arguing about their sex life, and doormen in a swanky building and the interesting predicaments they’re often put in.

There’s a wonderful season-long romance between Dev and the gorgeous Alessandra Mastronardi, and the penultimate episode of the season will break your heart. The season starts in Italy, moves to New York, and gets sensational performances from guest stars like Angela Bassett and Bobby Cannavale.

Seriously, “Master of None” is expertly written and directed. Maybe the best thing I’ve seen on TV this year. Streaming on Netflix now, I highly, highly recommend it.

**Finally today, my man Jeff Pearlman continues to grind out a weekly Q and A on his blog with fascinating people from all walks of life, and his most recent Quaz is near and dear to my heart.

Steve Rushin was a big inspiration for me as a young sportswriter; his prose in Sports Illustrated each week was truly like none other. Twenty-six years later, I still remember his game story in SI from the 1991 World Series, maybe the best I’ve ever seen, between the Twins and Braves, and memorized the story’s opening (Rushin’s lede: “The truth is inelastic when it comes to the 88th World Series. It is impossible to stretch. It isn’t necessary to appraise the nine days just past from some distant horizon of historical perspective. Let us call this Series what it is, now, while its seven games still ring in our ears: the greatest that was ever played.”)

His wordplay can be dazzling “I ate Frosted Flakes right out of the box, and she was on boxes of Frosted Flakes” and the next cliche Rushin uses will be his first. He’s an original, brilliant writing voice, and may be the first sportswriter to marry a women’s pro basketball legend (Rebecca Lobo).

He opens up with Jeff about his career, how fluky it was that he got to SI in the first place, and where journalism is going. His story about the letter he got from President George W. Bush five years after meeting him is hilarious.

Anyway, the interview is a damn entertaining read, just like all of Rushin’s stories.

 

Good News Friday: Obama finally shows some cojones on immigration reform. The NFL player who gave it all up to become a farmer. And a sick boy in Connecticut lives his dream

Well, I sure wish he had done this before the recent elections, and it would’ve been nice if he got around to it about three or four years ago, but hey, better late than never, right?

Six years into his Presidency, Barack Obama has finally done what he long promised to do: He took bold action on immigration reform. He announced in a speech Thursday night that his record pace of deportations (faster and more numerous than ANY other President, by the way) would not be his sole legacy on this issue.
His executive action will allow 4.3 million undocumented immigrants protection from deportation; these are people who are mostly contributing to our society, working manual labor jobs for menial pay. Obama also announced the U.S. will be speeding up the visa process for recent grads of American colleges.

It’s not a path to citizenship, it’s not some ridiculous “amnesty” which the GOP will surely call it, and it might not even be as good as the bipartisan bill signed last year that the GOP right-wingers in the House refused to pass.

It was the kind of executive action that W. used all the time, and nobody on the right screamed about him overstepping his legal authority, there. It’s estimated that allowing these 4.3 million immigrants to stay, if they register and begin paying taxes should lead to almost $3 billion in new payroll tax revenue (that’s something the Republicans ought to support, more money, right?).

It’s an excellent first step, long needed.

**Next up, this was a highly unusual story that I loved, courtesy of the always-excellent “CBS Sunday Morning.” Jason Brown, a former offensive lineman for the St. Louis Rams, retired after a 7-year career in 2012, throwing away future millions.
He didn’t quit because he was sick or injured, he quit for a much better reason: He wanted to become a farmer, grow food, and feed the hungry.

If it sounds like the plot of a bizarre Hollywood movie, that’s what I thought too. But watch this three-minute video (above) and see what a special man Jason Brown is. He owns 1,000 acres of land in North Carolina, where this year he grew more than 10,000 pounds of cucumbers and 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes, and gave them away to food banks in the state.

For one day, forget about the Ray Rices and Adrian Petersons of the NFL, and appreciate the quiet greatness of Jason Brown, a great human being.

(And oh yeah, this week he delivered his own child after a midwife couldn’t get there on time.)

dante-chiappetta-yale.jpg

**Finally today, a beautiful story of hope and friendship from Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin, as good a sportswriter as there is. When he was merely three months old, Dante Chiappetta was declared legally blind.

By age one, Dante was diagnosed with cerebral palsy but also found to have something called cortical visual impairment: His eyes were otherwise healthy but lacked critical connections from the optic nerve to the brain’s occipital lobe.

As Dante grew and learned to love sports, his family teamed up with an organization called Team Impact, which pairs sick children with college teams. (Team Impact is very similar to Friends of Jaclyn, an incredible organziation I support as a volunteer).
Dante’s team is the Yale football squad, and they’ve adopted him completely.

From Rushin’s story: “Dante attends weekday practices. On Saturdays he roars in anticipation of the afternoon ahead, with its blazing leaves and glinting sousaphones. Said Joe, “I’ve never seen him this happy.”

It’s a wonderful column, with great quotes from the Yale players about what Dante has brought to them.

Now at this Saturday’s Yale-Harvard game, I’ll be sure to watch and see if I can find Dante on the sidelines. I’m sure he’ll be the guy smiling the biggest.