Discover more from Jeff Pearlman's Journalism Yang Yang
The Yang Slinger: Vol. XXV
We all have choices in this business. Some choose to pursue the light. Others do not. Also, five Qs with the author of a new Tupac encyclopedia. And thoughts on the late, great Grant Wahl.
So a few days ago a friend of mine uttered a sentence accompanied by 100 dead skunks: “Yo, go take a look at what Outkick just put up.”
Outkick, for those who don’t know, is the hard-right sports/politics/culture site birthed into the world by Clay Travis, a once-upon-a-time-legitimately-wonderful-college-football-scribe who, at some point between the years 2015-2019, was captured by the lizard people, placed inside the conversion chamber and transformed into a merciless far-right pit bull who suddenly (despite, cough, being liberal) loves all things Trump, knows everything (incorrectly) about Covid, co-hosts Rush Limbaugh’s old radio show and (as a side gig) barks at youth sports officials.
In short, Clay personifies the modern phenomenon that is the HEY EVERYONE, BE REALLY FUCKING ANGRY AT THE LEFT BECAUSE THEY’RE A BUNCH OF EVIL MOTHERFUCKERS WHO WANT YOUR KIDS TO BE WOKE HOMOSEXUAL CHILD GROOMERS! media movement. He makes his name off of it. He makes his money off of it. He makes his reputation off of it.
In short, it’s his brand.1
So, again, “Yo, go take a look at what Outkick just put up” doesn’t exactly spark joy. But, because I’m as easily triggered as the next guy, I, Yo, went to take a look at what Outkick just put up.
And here is what I found.
The piece, headlined JEMELE HILL’S NEW BOOK HAS SOLD JUST 5,034 COPIES, PROVING TO BE HER LATEST EPIC FAILURE, was penned by someone named Bobby Burack, the site’s press critic. And you, kind Substack peruser, should 100 percent read it, then read it again. And maybe read it a third time for fluid digestion. Because it perfectly exemplifies so much of what’s gone wrong with fringe media in the modern age of Them vs. Us journalism.
Soooo … let’s take this step by step, stage by stage …
To begin with, the premise of Bobby’s piece is that Jemele Hill’s book has failed because it sold “only” 5,034 copies in its first six weeks. I’m not entirely sure where Bobby received his sales figures, but I’m willing to believe him because (cough, cough) … selling 5,034 books isn’t a failure. Or even close to a failure. Or even close to close to a failure. Is it a wild success? Not particularly. It’s certainly nowhere near the Stephen King or Michael Lewis range. But only .000001 percent of authors wind up near the King/Lewis range. Lord knows, I’m not one of them.
Truth is, the success/failure of a book is often (wrongly, in my opinion) determined by whether it makes the New York Times’ best-seller’s list. And there are certainly weeks in the year when Hill’s sales would have put her in contention. Not now (the closer we get to the holidays, the more competitive it all becomes), but maybe had it been released in the spring, early summer.
The thing is, if you’re going to devote 603 words2 to the takedown of an author, you damn well better have your shit correct. And Bobby Burack—who unironically referred to the Washington Post's Taylor Lorenz as "a professional smear merchant with not much talent"—does not have his shit correct.3
First, Jemele’s book didn’t peak at 2,961 on Amazon—as Bobby has now twice (here and here) reported. It peaked at 57. Which, again, would probably bum out King or Lewis, but would thrill the rest of humanity. And what irks the fuck out of me about this little-but-not-little detail is the sheer gutter journalism of it. In his initial report, Bobby simply noted that—at the time of the Outkick post—Jemele’s book sat at 2,961 (sans any context). In the recent follow-up, he said the book got no higher than 2,961. This is called (wait—what’s the word?) … a lie. A fabrication. A mistruth created by the author himself. Which he surely knew to be the case. But why let a fact get in the way of a nice takedown?4
Second, Bobby writes, “Hill told Deadspin she hoped the memoir would propel her to ‘a best-selling author,’ a feat she was confident she’d reach.” This is, at best, a pathetic stab at inventing something for the sake of inventing something. Yes, at the very end of the segment Hill told Deadspin she hoped her book would make her a best-selling author.5 I, too, always hope my books will make me a best-selling author. My wife also hopes her books will make her a best-selling author. As, I’m certain, does Clay Travis when he writes a book; Wander Aguiar when he writes a book; Seamus Kirst when he writes a book. How, in God’s name, does hoping your book winds up a best-seller suggest any sort of arrogance/cockiness? Are you not supposed to hope your book winds up a best seller? Also, Hill never, ever, ever said she was “confident” it’d wind up a best-seller. Never. Not once. Ever. Again, that’s Bobby making shit up because … low-hanging fruit is juicy AF.
Here’s the exact snippet he was referring to. You be the judge …
Third, (and maybe my favorite point) is Bobby using Mark Levin as proof that—despite the “woke” media hyping its own—the winners in this world are conservative authors who peddle books without the help of Oprah, without the help of a New York Times review, without the help of [I’ll read between the lines here] Black and gay people waving rainbow flags and barking hippity hop lyrics about shooting cops and Glocking hos.
Levin, for those not in the know, is the hard-right talk show host with a whopping 3.3 million Twitter followers and an enormous national listening audience.6 He has a pretty inspired history of using his program to hype—Dr. Oz-like—iffy medical products (“Are you tired of never getting an erection!”7) and insisting Barack Obama tapped Donald Trump’s phone. He also, as Bobby notes, has sold a shitload of books. Far more books than Jemele Hill and Jeff Pearlman and Clay Travis combined.
Writes Bobby …
But here’s what Bobby conveniently leaves out: Mark Levin games the system—and everyone in the business knows it. It’s the secret-not-so-secret sales key for folks who work in the political book space. Publish something, and some PAC or right-leaning fundraiser will purchase a ton of copies. That way, the author can brag about his enormous literary success and the organization can receive attention from said personality. Hell, back in 2017 the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF) spent $427,000 gobbling up copies of Levin’s “Liberty or Tyranny.” The same sorta thing happened earlier this year, when the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee (A Trump-affiliated political committee) paid Books-A-Million $131,000 for thousands of copies of Jared Kushner’s “Breaking History: A White House Memoir”—a book seemingly no human walking the earth (right or left) had interest in. Amazingly, Save America followed that up with another $27,000 purchase of even more Kushner books. The same sorta thing happened back in 2019 when Donald Trump, Jr.’s “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants To Silence Us,” reached No. 1 on the Times’ list with apparent bulk buys.
And, to be 100 percent clear, I have no particular problem with any of this. If I’m Levin or Kushner or The Bear Slayer, and someone says, “Hey, I wanna bulk order your book”—fuck, sign me up ASAP. To repeat: I have no problem with it. But let’s not pretend Levin is proof that elbow grease and hard work trump what Bobby perceives as the woke left. Oh, and along those lines: Almost none of the hard-right media folk (I am not referring to Clay here. He’s an actual scribe) write their own books. I reached out to Levin, but never heard back. However, I did exchange DMs with an experienced ghost writer of the medium who told me, “None of the Fox guys write their own books.” So, assuming Levin utilizes a ghost, Bobby Burack is—quite literally—measuring Jemele Hill (who insists she wrote every word of “Uphill”) against a guy (Levin) who likely plops his name atop pages someone else penned.
Fourth, Bobby compares “Uphill: A Memoir” sales figures to that of “Spooky Pookie”—and ridicules Hill for being outsold by a children’s book. And, I guess, it’s a play for laughs. Ha, ha. Or something. But “Spooky Pookie” is a Sandra Boynton offering—and every … single … Sandra Boynton … book … sells … and … sells … and … sells. Why? Because Boynton is arguably the greatest children’s author of all time. Plus, “Spooky Pooky” costs $5.89. It’s a steal. I can say, with absolutely certainty, “Spooky Pooky” will outsell all of Levin’s books combined. Does that make Levin a failure?
Lastly, if you’re going to delve into publishing losers, I don’t see how that conversation can’t involve one Richard Clay Travis. Back in 2018, Clay (who, to be clear, I consider to be a very successful author), made quite the wilted penis of himself by moping and whining and whining and moping that the big, bad, liberal New York Times best-seller’s list was treating him unfairly.
He literally Tweeted this …
And, as folks quickly noted, Clay had no fucking idea whereof he spoke. That same week, three conservative-oriented books (“The Deep State” by Jason Chaffetz, “The Russia Hoax” by Gregg Jarrett and “Addicted to Outrage” by Glenn Beck) made the list. Turns out Clay’s book, “Republicans Buy Sneakers Too: How the Left is Ruining Sports with Politics,” has sold fewer than 17,000 copies since its release some four years ago—a total Jemele’s “Uphill” may well eclipse when all is said and done (memoirs, as a medium, generally sell far better in paperback than hardcover).
Here are the latest BookScan figures …
Which, in Bobby world, makes Clay Travis … a failure.
[Which, politics be damned, he most certainly is not].8
Earlier today I reached out to a colleague about this post, and he said—wisely, correctly—“Why write anything? They just want attention.” And it’s true. Outkick and folks like Bobby seem to thrive off of negative energy and owning the libs. Fuck, here are some of Bobby’s recent posts. The shit oozes schoolyard bully …
And yet, something about the audacity of the whole thing led me to this Substack entry. Had Bobby Burack written a negative review of “Uphill,” well—I wouldn’t have uttered a peep. Fuck, my career is overflowing with negative reviews. They come with the turf. If you put something out in the universe (a book, a movie, an album) and people pay money for the product, they have every right to dump on it.
But JEMELE HILL’S NEW BOOK HAS SOLD JUST 5,034 COPIES, PROVING TO BE HER LATEST EPIC FAILURE wasn’t dumping on a book. It was dumping on a fellow writer for the sheer sake of dumping on a fellow writer. For kicks and giggles. For sport. The cruelty is the purpose.
Now, to be transparent, I know Jemele. We worked as columnists together at ESPN.com way back when, and she’s twice spoken to my Chapman University journalism class. She’s a good egg, and someone I consider a friend.
But you don’t have to be friends with Jemele Hill, or even like Jemele Hill, to see the lack of a human soul here. First, despite devoting more than 600 words toward Jemele’s slaughter, Bobby Burack never called her. Didn’t even try calling her. And I know this because, before writing this post, I reached out to Bobby—first via e-mail, then (with his blessing) phone. Once upon a time, that’s what people did when they devoted great length to a slash and burn: They reached out. Or at least tried to reach out. Out of courtesy, sure. But also out of curiosity (the hallmark of journalism). Like, if I’m Bobby Burack, I want to know how Jemele Hill feels about her book’s performance. I want her voice in my story. Maybe defending herself, maybe getting defensive. Even the simple, “Outkick reached out to Hill, who refused comment” carries oomph. This wasn’t a blog post, or a Tweet. It was an article in a publication. There’s literally zero argument to be made against sending a quick Twitter DM with the requisite, “Hey, Jemele, I’m working on this piece and …”
Alas, that would have taken integrity.
Furthermore, it seems sorta weird to go to great lengths to highlight a fellow journalist as a failure—especially when she’s one of the unambiguous success stories in modern sports media. Again, love Jemele or hate Jemele, you’re talking about a woman who (in no particular order), was a lead columnist for a major metropolitan newspaper, a lead columnist for ESPN.com, the host of her own ESPN show, the host of SportsCenter, the head of her own production company, a columnist for The Atlantic, host of a Spotify podcast and the author of a book that earned her a six-figure bonus. As Bobby will likely learn with age, stick around long enough and you’ll have your setbacks, your dismissals, your disappointments. I certainly have (Check out this review of my Clemens book. Or the time when the Yankees—rightly—threatened to sue me.). Clay, too. Megyn Kelly was kicked aside by NBC. How many shows has Katie Couric gone through? Wasn’t Jason Whitlock given the Heisman by the Undefeated? Bill Simmons’ HBO gig lasted less than a year. None of this makes someone a failure. It’s all a part of life. The journey. Highs and lows. The scars. The bloody noses. I mean, if “Winning Time” is cancelled by HBO after two seasons am I a TV failure?
Also, not for nothing, but two days after Bobby Burack’s rant, this popped up in New York City …
A Manhattan billboard?
I’d love to be this big of a failure.
A digression, one I choose to place in bold print for clarity: In our one-on-one conversation, Bobby Burack came across as a nice guy. He wouldn’t speak to me on the record (which, for a journalist, is sorta bullshit—but not unheard of), but we did chat. And I enjoyed it. I won’t go into detail (again, it was off the record), but he was anything but an asshole. In fact, if you look into the 25-year old’s background, little of it oozes dickhead. He’s a guy from small-town Michigan who attended Oakland University and aspired to become a writer/journalist. His first prime media gig was as a writer for The Big Lead, and he did some legitimately excellent work. Bobby is a talented writer who, had he come along a decade or two earlier, could have certainly landed a job at a newspaper, then rose up the ranks. It’s not beyond the realm of imagination to picture Bobby Burack, 1982 or 1992 or 2002 model, jumping from Oakland U to Detroit Free Press’ preps reporter to the Lions or Tigers beat. He certainly possesses the base skill set.
And, at one point in his career, Bobby seemed to be heading down that path. I spoke with a handful of people in my media circle who say a young(er) Bobby Burack reached out seeking help and guidance. They recall a friendly kid with a ton of curiosity. Until 2020, he hosted a podcast, creatively named “Bobby Burack Podcast,” that featured a slew of high-profile sports and media guests, ranging from Bob Arum and Taylor Rooks to Curt Menefee and Nate Burleson. It was an amazing/admirable achievement, especially considering Bobby began the program while at Oakland. I can’t overstate that: A college kid starting his own podcast, and landing one big-name guest after another, is nothing to scoff at. Why, a whopping 82 episodes are available for your listening pleasure, spanning from July 1, 2017 to Feb. 27, 2020.
Strangely, one episode was deleted.
The one wedged in between Freddie Coleman and Nick Wright.
A single 30-minute recorded conversation that Bobby, for reasons unknown, preferred vanish into the abyss.
A moment in time that Bobby deliberately erased.
The one where “Bobby Burack Podcast” welcomed … Jemele Hill.
I called Jemele, and she confirmed the Sept. 5, 2017 appearance. This was back when Bobby was an Oakland sophomore. Jemele, who speaks to as many high school and college classes as any colleague I know, took time out of her day to help a kid out. Ever a saver, she even retained the e-mail exchange …
Then the sad little follow-up …
Jemele Tweeted it out.
And while, technically, Bobby Burack owes Jemele nothing for the favor, it says something that, in his time at Outkick, he’s made a cottage industry out of not merely bashing her, but obsessing over her.
It’s Jemele, and more Jemele, and more, more, more, more, more, more Jemele.
“I guess at this stage in the business I shouldn’t be stunned by anything,” Jemele told me on Wednesday. “And just because I did his podcast doesn’t mean he needs to be nice to me. He certainly doesn’t. But it’s one thing if you attack and challenge a person on things she deserves to be attacked and challenged on. If you don’t like what I write, by all means go after it. But this is creating a narrative around book sales. Inventing a narrative. It’s sad. I remember talking to him. He was a nice kid. To become this … I don’t know. It’s unfortunate.”9
I agree. And I wonder, truly, where the Bobby Burack attack(s) stem from. Is it that Jemele Hill is successful? Liberal? A Black woman with a voice? A Black woman with a voice that threatens you? Is it that you see her career, and aspire toward it? Is it the realization that she has talents you have yet to develop? Are you jealous? Envious? Sad? Bored? Do you not like that she’s taken shots at Outkick? Are you standing up for your employer?
Are you lonely?
A final thought: I did not enjoy writing this.
Truly, I didn’t.
I’m not sure what led Bobby Burack down this career path, but somewhere along the way someone older/more experienced (like Clay) needed to say, “Listen, you don’t wanna do this.” Or, more directly, “Listen, you shouldn’t do this. Not yet.”
And here’s what I mean: At age 50, I can Tweet about Trump, complain about Outkick, blog about bloody stools, post photos of a rotting squirrel head, go on irrational rants—and survive. There might be backlash, there might be embarrassment, but 10 books in, with a long career covering sports for a bunch of different outlets, I’ll likely be OK.4 The same goes for Clay Travis. Dig him or dog him, the man is 43 with a shitload of triumphs under his belt. He can afford to, say, spread Covid misinformation or have a book undersell. He'll be fine. He's established.
But Bobby Burack, 25-year-old Jemele Hill fanboy, is just starting out. He’s a relative newbie to this business, and what relative newbies tend to overlook is that nothing vanishes. Everything you write sticks and sticks and sticks. Every time you present innuendo as fact. Every time you pen something that comes off as inherently racist. [Like this dandy]
Every time you surrender your talent and dignity to dig manure ditches alongside the sewage tank that is your Outkick portfolio. Every time you fail to report facts. Every time you present fiction as real. It’s all there, an eternal ode to an angry, unprofessional young man looking at the world’s Clays and Seans and Tuckers and longing to join their ranks, but lacking the quan to do so.
At some point, Bobby Burack could have paused, could have reconsidered his unwinding path and thought, “Is this the righteous route? Is this the way to make my family proud? Is this really what I want to be?”
Alas, like a deleted episode of a long-ago podcast, that time has come and gone.
The Quaz Five with … Michael Namikas
• 1. Why would one take the time, energy to create an encyclopedia of a long-dead rapper?": Tupac is not a merely a “long dead rapper.” His influence stretches beyond rap and across continents. He’s a worldwide cultural icon, one of the most important of the late twentieth century. I am not a religious person, and some might call me crazy for saying this, but I genuinely believe that Tupac was the kind of person who, had he lived thousands of years ago, could have been the founder of some organized religion. I think he had the kind of charisma, intelligence, and ego necessary to lead people in that way and, for reasons I point out in the book, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tupac saw himself that way, too. Although he has now been dead for longer than he ever lived, his music is timeless. Tupac did not focus on writing witty punchlines or making clever references to pop culture touchstones that have long since become dated. His work most often revolves around basic human needs and emotions and he chronicled problems that plague our society to this day. I am skeptical that those problems will ever be solved so I think Tupac’s music will always speak to us. As I explain in my book’s introduction, most writers have focused more on Tupac’s fascinating and tragic life story. Although you cannot understand Tupac’s work without knowing his life, I wanted my book, which is basically a listener’s guide (partly inspired by a concordance I read that is dedicated to Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen), to move the discussion back toward his albums and songs. I believe there is tremendous value in that and I do not think there has ever been a book like mine about Tupac or any other hip hop artist. I think it’s a “one of one.” I don’t think that any “one” could have written this book. I think one would have to be a Tupac fan and I’ve been a fan of Tupac’s since 1993. I have been researching this book, in some sense, since I was in high school in the late 1990s. Very few people admire Tupac more than I do but, because of the training I received in law school, I think my book reflects my ability to see multiple sides of issues and my desire to be as objective about my subject as possible. I don’t consider myself a Tupac “stan” despite the obvious passion I have for him as both a person and an artist and I hope my readers agree with me about that.
• 2. What was your general approach to research?: I want to cite three people to answer this question. The first is the most trivial. On “Takeover,” Jay-Z’s 2001 diss aimed at Mobb Deep and Nas, Jay says that “We kill you motherfuckin' ants with a sledgehammer / Don't let me do it to you, dunny, 'cause I overdo it.” That was my basic philosophy when considering what to include: to overdo it, to err on the side of obsessive detail. By the time readers have finished the book, I want them to know more about Tupac than they do about their friends and even some of their family members. That kind of detail might not appeal to everyone; some might be bored or overwhelmed but I didn’t write this book for them so I have to accept how they might be turned off. The second person is the non-fiction author I most admire: Robert A. Caro. Caro has been writing a series of books about Lyndon Johnson for more than forty years and he still isn’t finished. He still hasn’t written extensively about Johnson’s presidency and the Vietnam War. He has been working on the last volume for the past ten years! He’s one of the greatest writers I have had the privilege of reading and I pray that he lives long enough to finish his work. I greatly admire the time and the care he takes. You feel you know the people he writes about. I could never hope to be half as talented or accomplished as Caro is, but his work gave me great solace as I wrote about Tupac. When I became frustrated with my own research or writing, I often stepped away and read Caro’s books for inspiration. The last person would be Tupac himself. In one interview, he talked about how his aggressive and sometimes hostile public persona was a shield for him. He used it to keep people at a distance to prevent confrontations from occurring. I see the way that I tried to learn everything I possibly could in that way. It’s evidence of my personal insecurity, I suppose. I tried to be as detail oriented as possible as a means of answering questions that readers might have before they even thought of them. I am sure I failed but I wanted to think of everything that might spark a reader’s curiosity.
3. What's the craziest thing you found?: As I related in response to your first question, I have been studying Tupac for about twenty-five years. I found nothing while I was writing this book to be “crazy” or “shocking.” There were a few salacious details, for example, some things that Tupac allegedly said about his sexual partners, some of whom are quite famous, that I won’t repeat. Apart from small things like that, I was most surprised while writing the book early on in my process. At the start, I spent days listening to every song Tupac ever recorded with my headphones, scribbling notes as the music played. I’ve been listening to Tupac most of my life but I admit that my perception of his work changed somewhat when I listened to him for hours and hours, day after day. I always knew how depressing his music could be; I think that’s apparent to anyone with even superficial knowledge of his catalogue. Still, even with decades of experience listening to him, I was taken aback by just how bleak so many of his songs are when listened to one after another. I also think his music is a lot more spiritual than people realize but the depression is what really hit me.
4. What do you think, had he not died, Tupac's legacy would have been/career would have looked like here in his 50s?: This is a question I’m frequently asked (probably third after “is he dead?” and “who killed him?”). One thing people reading my book might be surprised by is that Tupac considered himself an actor first and rapper second. Acting was his first and most passionate love and he wanted to focus more on that aspect of his career near the end of his life for various reasons. I therefore think he probably would have done more acting had he not been murdered. That said, it is hard for me to imagine him being alive today. At times, when I was writing the book, I often wondered whether he had a death wish. I have conflicting thoughts about fate but I tend to question whether free will really exists in the way that people use that term. I think Tupac died on September 13, 1996. That’s what happened and nothing will ever change that. It’s fun for some people to speculate but I generally do not do that.
5. You self-published. Do you have any goals/hopes of making money?: Money was not my primary motivation in writing this book (arguably not even a motivation at all). Only a complete moron would undertake what I have done for the purpose of making money. My family and I have endured tremendous opportunity costs because of my dedication to this book. It would be nice to receive some sort of reasonable compensation for my work, although I doubt that will happen if I am being completely honest with myself. I have come to terms with that. This book is not about me. I did not write it for me. I wrote it so that people will have a greater understanding of and appreciation for Tupac Shakur as a man and as an artist. That’s it.
This week’s college writer you should follow on Twitter …
Autumn Okuszka, features reporter for The Oakland Post.
So while writing the above featured post on Bobby Burback, I visited the student newspaper at his alma mater and searched his name in the backlog database. Alas, nothing came up.
But that led me to this lovely piece from Okuszka, who attended Elton John’s farewell tour, then reviewed his televised adios show at Dodger Stadium. It’s a professionally done, well-crafted piece that could easily wind up in a journalism book under: Event coverage 101 …
One can follow Autumn on Twitter here. Keep bringing it, kid …
Random journalism musings for the week …
So this is the spot where I usually offer musings of myriad things going on in journalism. But for this week, I’m going to stick to Grant Wahl, my former Sports Illustrated colleague who died while covering the World Cup in Qatar …
I am crushed.
I’m not sure how relatable this is to the young 2022 journalist, but back in 1996 I arrived at Sports Illustrated, where I was hired as a reporter. The position involved a lot of inglorious fact checking, along with some writing opportunities if you scrapped and clawed and pitched and busted ass. There were, oh, 20 or so reporters, all located in one hallway inside the Time Warner building in midtown Manhattan. And with rare exception, we all dreamed of becoming Sports Illustrated senior writers. Among the names you might recognize: Paul Gutierrez, Seth Davis, Jon Wertheim, Matt Rudy, Jennifer Wulff, Richard Deitsch, Chris Stone, Lars Anderson, Bev Oden, B.J. Schecter, John Walters. And, of course, Grant.
I was 24 when I showed up. Grant was 23. He attended Princeton, which was part blessing, part curse. Blessing, because the magazine’s power brokers were, oh, 70 percent Princeton alum, and that definitely gave a newbie an edge. Curse, because the hallway could be cruel, and Grant caught some serious shit from colleagues. He walked, if I’m being honest, with an Ivy-crusted confidence that far exceeded his age. Much the way some former Laker teammates describe a young Kobe, Grant probably believed he was the best writer in the room. And he was—truly—really fucking good. Smart. Quick. Perceptive. Tight with a phrase. Little loose fat in his copy. Fearless as all fuck.
The confidence, however, did not always go over well. There were times I cringed at Grant’s treatment of editors. He did not enjoy having words changed. He also didn’t hesitate to express that lack of enjoyment. It could be awkward to behold. A bit rough.
But … (and this is a huge but), Grant’s confidence was his super power. Whether he was chronicling college basketball or soccer, his writing voice was pronounced and clear and overflowing with oomph. A lot of young scribes (myself included, way back when) tiptoe through the tall grass. Grant stomped over it. Also, those bullpen voices that ridiculed/ostracized? Grant paid them no mind. He was unaffected. Didn’t care. He wasn’t at Sports Illustrated to make buddies. He was there to become a great American sports writer.
Which he did.
There was a soft side to Grant. A loveliness. With age, he mellowed (as do we all). He appeared on my podcast a bunch of years ago, and as we sat beneath an overhang outside his Manhattan apartment, the rain trickling down, he spoke passionately, tenderly about his love of journalism; of seeing the world; of meeting people; of foods and cultures; of diversity and life’s uniqueness.
We also played several years side by side on the Sports Illustrated basketball team. My fondest memory isn’t of the wins and losses, but of the post-games, when a dozen (or so) of us would retreat to a nearby pub and talk all things journalism and life. Grant was both a phenomenal listener and a lively storyteller. Outside of the bullpen, away from the rat race, he was a delight. A hearty laugh. A blinding smile. He was a kid from Kansas with a midwestern glow.
Last thought: Back in September of 1999, I attended the wedding of Jon and Ellie Wertheim. I was a fringe guest—the co-worker who’s never met the bride. I was placed at the Sports Illustrated table, near Chris Stone and Hank Hersch and Rich O’Brien and next to Grant. At one point, Ellie’s maid of honor rose to give a toast. She was absolutely fetching, and as she spoke Grant turned to me and said, “She’s cute. You should ask her out.”
Catherine and I have been married for nearly 21 years.
Thank you, Grant Wahl.
Quote of the week …
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
Even though he certainly knows it’s nonsense.
One thing I’ve learned throughout my career: It’s really bad form for a writer to rip another writer’s skill. Also bad mojo. Like—as examples—I can’t stand the work of Clay and Jason Whitlock. Or even Bobby. But I’d never suggest they can’t write. Because this shit is h-a-r-d. And who am I to say I’m better than anyone? And who is Bobby to say he’s more talented than Taylor Lorenz?
Also, is anyone editing this kid?
She also said certain people in this business are “fame thirsty and dishonest.”
It always bothers me how writers like Bobby never mention in their “the media is against us!” screeds that the talk radio airwaves are owned by the hard right, as is the largest cable news network in America. As is America’s third-largest/arguably most-influential newspaper, the Wall Street Journal (which, for the record, is a tremendous paper).
I wanna emphasize this: Clay’s sales figures are strong.
Via e-mail I asked Bobby whether he’d even read “Uphill.” I’m guessing he didn’t, because the book actually delves into Outkick, and I don’t believe he’s mentioned that in past posts. A memo to young writers: If you’re gonna slog an author and her book, at least read the damn thing.
On the afternoon before I published this I wrote Bobby an e-mail, reading …
Probably running my substack thing tomorrow. Some questions:
A. Did you graduate from Oakland University? Degree in what?
B. You started the podcast in 2017, ended it in 2020. Correct?
C. You had Jemele Hill as a guest in Sept. 2017—but it seems to be the only episode you deleted, post-publication. Any idea why?
D. You wrote that her Amazon rank topped out in the 2,000s. It actually appears to have topped out at No. 57. But I could be wrong. What source did you use for that?
E. I would love to talk on the record for this, if you'd be game.
He never responded.
He doesn’t have to be an epic failure. There is still time. And ability.