Okay, none of this is breaking news here, just some Monday Morning Analysis. Newsday’s Watchdog reported last week that former ESPN anchor Dan Patrick was joining Sports Illustrated (hat tip to The Big Lead). TBL also reported on Friday that Rick Reilly was out at Sports Illustrated and that Reilly would be joining ESPN. As far as what the Reilly signing means for ESPN, we believe that DeadSpin summed it up best with its article title: ESPN Fills Badly Needed Smart Alecky Middle Aged White Guy Quota. Now COSELLOUT has been an unapologetic critic of Sports Illustrated, but must give credit in that it seems to be heading in the right institutional direction.
THREE CHEERS FOR SI!: We have recently commended Sports Illustrated on adding Dave Zirin as a weekly columnist to its website. Zirin is a free thinker who adds a much-needed social and political dimension to SI’s sports coverage. By adding Dan Patrick, it brings back the element of ESPN when it USED to be a respectable institution. And while like any journalist, Patrick was guilty of having his off days, his larger body of work and professionalism has been sorely missed by ESPN. Patrick also showed that there is an acceptable balance that can be struck between the clever/witty sportscaster and sports news itself. Of course, that line has been routinely obliterated by ESPN reporters, and I suppose that the likes of Patrick, Keith Olbermann, and Chris Berman must take partial responsibility for the ESPN Frankenstein that they helped to create. Finally, losing Reilly to ESPN can be seen as addition by subtraction. On one hand Reilly deserves high praise as he has contributed a number of excellent and socially important columns including his wonderful "Nothing But Nets" one that he describes in today’s interview with TBL. However, as we have previously explained in Rick Reilly is a Dork and Why It Matters, his past great columns were increasingly being outweighed by his consistent need to bully superstar athletes. The Big Lead writes:
"There aren’t any details yet, but this is a massive blow to SI any way you slice it. Let’s start the speculation now – who gets that coveted backpage column? Is Whitlock in the mix? Do they make a play for Bill Simmons? TJ Simers? Tony Kornheiser? We’re thinking out loud here and not paying attention to contracts."
The “massive blow” that TBL alludes to is most definitely “bottom line” and not integrity as Reilly is their single most popular writer. And since we’re speculating let’s hope that SI doesn’t take 3 steps forward and 30 steps backward by even considering Jason Whitlock for one single solitary second. In our article “Whitlock-Gone-Wild” we have made our feelings quite clear that there is no single person on the planet who is a greater embarrassment to the profession of sports journalism. Not only has Whitlock been named “Cosellout-of-the-month”, but he has wrapped up the 2007 yearly award in a landslide with a full two months to spare. In a related story, Whitlock has blamed Reilly’s departure from SI to ESPN on hip-hop… But I digress, since SI seems to be on a planned or unplanned path toward finding some religion, COSELLOUT thought that we might provide some additional recommendations in its quest back to journalistic respectability. We sincerely hope that somebody with SI juice that reads this can somehow pass on the memo Terry McDonell, Editor of the Sports Illustrated Group. If not, we’ll sleep better this evening just by trying:
FIVE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED:
1) Wave the White Flag to ESPN!: SI simply can no longer compete with the sensationalism giant that is ESPN who has cornered the pop-sports-dumbed-down market. Let’s face the cold hard facts: SI cannot out-blowhard Jay Mariotti, cannot out-buffoon Woody Paige, and cannot out-outrage Skip Bayless. The battle has already been lost, SI will never win it, and it is past time to cut some losses. The next best thing to do is to wave the white flag and become the intelligent mainstream alternative that tries to garner the readers who have long since boycotted the other morons, retards, and bigots that can be routinely found in ESPN’s Conversation’s website comment section (the uninformed can see this sample Michael Vick post). SI needs some fresh thinking and a fresh start before their magazine and website become virtually extinct by 2015 – if not sooner.
2) Put a woman on your cover that is not dressed in a bikini! Diana Tarausi, Candace Parker, Pat Summit, either of the Williams sisters after a 2007 grand slam victory, ANYBODY! Since we already know that SI would NEVER retract its greatest money-maker that is its annual swimsuit issue, we will set a far lower bar for to reach. Despite SI’s terrible history of coverage of female athletes, since 1990 SI has had 5 covers dedicated to Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams EACH even though neither played a game since the 1960’s. Here is an idea? Next year marks the silver anniversary of Billie Jean King’s landmark victory over Bobby Riggs. How about a cover story on the deep social impact of this event over the last 25 years? And while this is being pondered, hiring a couple more female writers might also help.
3) Give Gary Smith a full-time Job!: Gary Smith is an brilliant writer and a credit to the profession. Clearly at his best when profiling college coaches, his recent article on University of Miami head coach Randy Shannon or almost Notre Dame head coach George O’Leary (it can be read as part of a 7-day free trial at elibrary.com.) The problem? It seems like he writes one article per year. Now we’ve got no inside information on this as this might be Smith’s own preference, but if not, can someone please increase his workload! And no, Smith is not the guy that is going to bring in loads of readers like a Reilly, but more frequent articles by Smith might help to offset some of the mag’s weaker writing.
4) Remove all Future Barry Bonds Stories away from Tom Verducci!: When Bonds ever hits his 800th home run, when the Mitchell report comes out, or when discussions arise about future Hall of Fame consideration of Bonds, PLEASE relieve Verducci from his duties. COSELLOUT can write a doctoral thesis on Verducci’s personal bias against Barry Bonds, but since that has yet to be completed, we will just refer you to our in-depth analysis of “A Tale of Two Homers” a direct compare/contrast study of how Tom Verducci covered Bonds’ 715th home run, and how SI’s Chris Ballard covered Bonds 755th home run. The results are a sports journalism 101 lesson in responsible reporting. In fact, Chris Ballard – who also wrote the balanced “Living with Barry”– is the essentially the only SI author who has covered Bonds in a fair manner over the last 15 years – another documented SI historical bias by COSELLOUT. We strongly recommend Ballard’s assignment to future Bonds projects. Every journalist has their glaring weakness, and Verducci’s is Barry Bonds.
5) Hire Some Non-White Writers (but NOT Jason Whitlock)! Oh, Where Have You Gone Ralph Wiley? Basketball players are about 80% African-American, football is about 60% African-American, and baseball is about one third Hispanic. These sports, the players, and their behavior are being interpreted –and often misinterpreted– through the lens of an SI staff that is overwhelmingly middle-aged white males. And this lack of diversity clearly exposes itself in the full scope of SI’s articles. And while there is nothing that precludes any single INDIVIDUAL from effectively crossing racial/generational terrain (again, see Gary Smith), when an entire GROUP lacks such diversity, the institution and its collective writing will almost always suffer due to its internal collective cultural bias.
This has always been a big problem with SI but has gotten worse as former assisting managing editor Roy Johnson left SI in 2005, and JA Adande — formerly LA Times– recently turned down SI in favor for ESPN. While there are certainly many reasons for these occurrences, it is hard to imagine that the internal culture at SI is an easy environment for any non-white professional to work at. In his 1997 book, “The Franchise: A History of SI Magazine”, author Michael MacCambridge writes of SI’s “dubious diversity efforts” that:
“Many wondered if SI’s minority outreach program consisted of anything other than Mulvoy occasionally asking [African-American Senior Writer] Phil Taylor if ‘he knew any good black writers’.
That said, it is time that management squarely address the issue with a proactive hiring strategy. And since the “ask Dr. Phil” strategy hasn’t been yielding maximum results over the years, here are a few of COSELLOUT’s alternative suggestions:
a) Make a run at ESPN’s Chris Broussard: Why Chris Broussard? Broussard, formerly of The New York Times, is too good and too insightful a writer to have his articles and especially his blog posted in the hidden corners of ESPN’s website. And while he also writes for “ESPN the Magazine” and reports on Sports Center now and then, his talents don’t seem to be maximized. Perhaps he is too level-headed for ESPN. I have no idea what his salary is, but pay him more.
b) Why isn’t William C. Rhoden a National Writer?: Now this might be a long-shot because Rhoden writes for the esteemed New York Times, is a part-time ESPN Sports Reporter, and does not fit the “young and hip” mold. Rhoden, a cerebral intellectual who is at his best writing insightful articles, simply does not translate well into the sound-bite culture of dumbed-down TV. More than any other sports book that I have read over the last few years, his brilliant “40 Million Dollar Slaves” is simply MANDATORY READING for any serious sports AND American history fan. I promise that even hardcore sports buffs will literally be ANGRY that they learned so much sports history in one book that was previously hidden from them. Please do yourself a great favor and purchase this book right here, right now. But I digress. The bottom line is: Rhoden’s prose deserves a national stage, and SI is equipped to give that to him.
c) Why isn’t D.K. Wilson writing for a big-name outfit?: There is so much untapped talent out there that I can throw out 10 names in a heartbeat. But I will focus on one: D.K. Wilson. He recently left The Starting Five to return to his own site “Sports on My Mind”. His output is simply prolific as he puts out more than 400 articles in a year. And I’m not talking about “link jobs” or “two-or three-paragraph” posts either. To cite one example, let’s revisit Barry Bonds to make a point: similar articles to the latest “sleight of hand” hit job by Verducci or an over-the-top hatchet job by Rick Reilly can be found in newspapers across the land – even by FORMER SI staffers like Gerry Callahan. But tell me, how often can you find an in-depth historical and current analysis like Wilson’s “The Real Dope on Barry Bonds”? In what national or local paper can you find this information so that readers can be presented with alternate points of view before casting judgments?
Would it kill SI if almost every writer in their stable did NOT have the exact same opinion? Isn’t the purpose of great sports journalism to bring something different and new to the national discussion that can’t be found everywhere else? Apparently not, and that is why writers with more thorough or alternative points of view often write on blogs while inferior writers who all look and think alike tend to get jobs at SI. And SI’s magazine has suffered greatly because of it. It is time for SI to hire writers AND EDITORS that reflect the diversity of the sports they cover, and the diversity of opinions across America. It seems that this process has started with the hiring’s of Zirin and Patrick, but this should merely be the beginning of a much more diverse and inclusive management strategy.
These are simply five of many more recommendations that will surely be offered in the future. SI once had a great place at the top of sports journalism where folks like Wiley, Plimpton [George], Olsen [Jack], and Jenkins [Dan] once roamed . Perhaps SI can someday get back to such a place… if leadership will allow it.
 In “The Franchise: A History of Sports Illustrated Magazine”, author Michael MacCambridge reminds us (p. 356) that “Monica Seles made the cover alone after she was stabbed in a tournament in Germany, but not after any of her eight Grand Slam singles titles” and that “Nancy Kerrigan graced the cover after being clubbed, but not after winning the US figure skating championships.”
 And while one can argue that Frank Deford be held up as a top level writer, I just can’t move past that Kirby Puckett cover story hatchet job BEFORE the verdict! And while I try not to judge writers on their worst days… DAMN that was a bad day!