Time for another round of Question Time, in which I answer questions submitted by you, the readers. Here we go:
What do you think of the NHL lockout and do you foresee any uni changes that teams would make afterwards to stir up some interest?
Uni changes as a way to mend fences with fans after the lockout, that’s an intriguing idea, but it seems unlikely, since new designs have to be approved and put into production well in advance.
I feel that sports uniforms are becoming so varied, even within a single team and also during a season, that many of the basic design cues of a team are being lost. Do you think that we’ll see a return to uniformity in uniforms any time soon?
No, for two reasons: (1) We live in an increasingly short-attention-span world, where people have been conditioned to expect a new jolt of sensory stimulation (including but not limited to new uniforms) on shorter and shorter time cycles. (2) Uniform variation these days is driven largely by merchandising and retailing. As long as people are willing to buy $200 polyester shirts, we’ll keep seeing more of them.
How did you choose your surgeon who operated on your wrist?
When I went to the ER and got the X-rays confirming that my “sprains” were actually fractures, they sent me home with the names of two orthopedists to follow up with. I looked them up on the web, found that they both had good ratings/feedback/etc., and chose the one whose office is closer to my home. He told me I’d need surgery and that he’d perform the procedure himself. Seemed like a simple enough operation, so I trusted him. For something more involved, I would’ve gotten a second opinion.
I am a huge Sixers fan and love collecting the various uniforms from throughout the team’s history. Which of the Sixers’ uniforms do you like the most and why?
I don’t mean to knock your team, but I don’t think the Sixers have had a particularly inspired uni history. Their most noteworthy designs have been notable mainly for being garish. If I had to choose, I’d go with this one.
What are your favorite uniforms of today in any of the sports?
I covered this in the Uni Watch Power Rankings.
Who would you say makes the best burgers in New York?
The truth is, there are relatively few bad burgers in New York (well, aside from McDonald’s and such). I’m particularly fond of the ones at Corner Bistro, Old Town, and Donovan’s in Queens. I think the much-lauded lunch burger at Peter Luger isn’t as good as some people say it is. And I’ve never understood all the fuss over the Shake Shack’s shackburger, which strikes me as fine but unremarkable.
Have you ever met or interviewed Chris Creamer from Chris Creamer’s Sportslogos.net?
Chris and I have never met or spoken on the phone, although we occasionally e-mail. I have a lot of respect for what he’s achieved with his site (which he founded two years before I started writing about uniforms, incidentally, so he’s been doing this longer than I have), and I’d be happy to meet him if the opportunity presented itself. He lives in Canada, so our paths don’t cross that often.
You are now the first ever appointed uniform czar of professional sports. What are your top three decisions to be handed down to the four major pro leagues?
MLB players must cuff their pants no lower than mid-calf; NBA players must wear socks that go no lower than mid-calf; NFL teams must wear striped socks or submit a waiver application explaining why they should be exempt from such a rule.
Once we get the hosiery situation settled, my czarship will turn toward other, less weighty matters.
How come you aren’t on the staff for Grantland.com? It would make a lot of sense if you were.
This question would be better directed toward the higher-ups at ESPN.com, since I’m under contract to them and they decide where to deploy me.
I have always been fond of bass fishing. Have you ever thought of doing a post on the unis the anglers wear, along with their design of boats?
Bass fishing uniforms have occasionally surfaced in the Ticker. I’ve never devoted a full entry to them, and I doubt I’ll do so in the future, if only because I don’t feel qualified to comment on the subject. Perhaps you’d like to consider writing a guest entry?
Do you consider yourself a Brooklyn hipster? What are your thoughts on the hipsterness of Brooklyn?
The term “hipster” is largely meaningless, since everyone defines it differently and almost nobody defines it thoughtfully. It’s a cartoon, a caricature. I had more to say about this in this piece I wrote for ESPN New York. Start there.
As for me, I’m 48, I live in Park Slope (a neighborhood that’s more suburban-yuppie than bohemian-edgy), and I like sports. These three things alone would disqualify me from most definitions of hipsterism.
What has created your hatred for the color purple?
A near-bottomless supply of good taste.
Can you please comment on how and when you developed your interest in stirrups? It is certainly a unique item of the wardrobe.
When I was a little boy and started watching baseball, I noticed how the different players wore their stirrups with different styles, and that fascinated me. I couldn’t wait to get my first Little League uniform so I could wear my own stirrups and create just the right ratio of color to white undersock. No other sport had anything like this (I didn’t realize at the time that football players were white crew socks over stirrups), so I thought of it as “a baseball thing,” which made it extra-cool. I’d doodle players’ lower legs in my notebook margins at school, showing the different cuff heights and stirrup styles. Just one of those things I became obsessed with, and the obsession continues today.
How much of your income comes from Uni Watch vs. ESPN and other sources? At what point were you first able to live off your writing alone? What other jobs did you have on the way?
I’ve been a full-time work-at-home freelance writer since March 1, 1996. Prior to that, I was a book editor, working mostly on graphic design books and also, to a lesser extent, on music trivia books.
Uni Watch — by which I mean this web site and my ESPN work — comprises about 80% of my income. Most of that comes from ESPN, with a little coming from this site.
Do you have a favorite beer?
Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. But I’m also very happy with Budweiser. Not a beer snob at all. Malty = yes, hoppy = no.
Did you walk to school or bring your own lunch?
You mean when I was a kid? I biked to elementary school and took the bus to junior high and high school. Usually brown-bagged it.
Why is Milwaukee your favorite city? What do you like the most about it, and what activities or places would you recommend to someone visiting?
I like the tavern scene; I like the frozen custard scene; I like the brats; I like that there’s an art scene that isn’t full of itself; I like that it’s still a production/manufacturing town (at least somewhat); I like the art museum; I like how the whole town feels like a smaller, more manageable version of Chicago.
Truthfully, though, I haven’t spent all that much time in other cities, because my favorite kind of travel is rural road-tripping. So my assessment of Milwaukee relative to other cities is probably pretty shallow and incomplete.
Your opinion on advertising in the public sector has been discussed before, but not this particular example: What do you think about highway clean-up sponsors (“This section of x highway is sponsored by Chico’s Bail Bonds”)?
Against it. Just another way for local governments to avoid making grown-up choices and to sell off civic assets that belong to the people. Seems like one of those great “something for nothing” ways of pandering to voters, except (a) advertising in public space takes a civic toll, and (b) you end up with all the predictable nonsense of “undesirable” sponsors wanting to get in on the act, like the local titty bar or the local chapter of the Klan. Want to avoid that silliness? It’s easy — tax people sensibly for necessary services, including highway clean-up.
Growing up in Quebec City, we always heard a rumour that the Nordiques had all the fleur-de-lis on their jersey because they cut a deal with the Provincial government (which was separatist at the time) to promote the province in return for tax breaks. Is this true, and if so is this a case of one of the first example of corporate (or government) douchebaggery?
I’ve never heard that before, so I have no idea if it’s true. Wouldn’t surprise me, though. This type of dealmaking continues today — the Marlins, for example, agreed to change their name to the Miami Marlins (instead of Florida Marlins) as a condition of their new stadium being built.
What happened to the Catch of the Day?
I found I wasn’t remembering to update it very often, didn’t have time to look for new things to link to, etc. Felt lame-o to just leave the same link up there for weeks at a time, so I took it down. But now it’s back!
You’ve posted a couple of pictures of yourself playing softball over the years. Are you still active on the diamond? Are you a power hitter or a singles hitter?
I stopped playing two years ago, for three reasons: (1) I felt my skills were declining, so playing had become less fun and more frustrating. (2) Many of the people I played with had started having kids and were bringing their children to the games each week, to the point where our field started feeling like a day care center. Some people love being surrounded by infants and toddlers, but I don’t, so this made the scene a bit less attractive to me. (3) After 20+ years, I wanted to see what it was like to have warm-weather Sundays to myself for a change.
I was one of those scrappy singles hitters.
I know that for you, purple = death, and also black is annoying, but I have to wonder, is there any team, college or pro that wears purple or black, that you tolerate or consider acceptable? If so, why? Uniform design element? Rich tradition with the color?
As much as I hate purple, I’d never tell the Vikings to stop wearing it — it’s been their color for nearly half a century! And for the record, I don’t hate black; I just hate BFBS. Raiders in black? Of course! Spurs in black? You betcha! Mets in black? Nuh-uh.
With all the crap surrounding the Cowboys and their messed up color scheme, have you ever contacted the Cowboys or NFL Properties directly to ask for a specific answer as to why they do what they do?
No. My experience is that this type of question tends to be answered with, “That’s just the way it is.”
You’ve mentioned that you’ve spent some time in New Zealand and have an admiration for the place. Care to elaborate more on what you were doing there and the effect New Zealand had on you?
I was a huge fan of the New Zealand indie-rock scene in the late 1980s and 1990s. This led me to travel there twice — for about three-and-a-half weeks in 1993, and again for two weeks in 1996. Traveled all over both islands, made lots of friends, still stay in touch with some of them.
Wonderful things about New Zealand (aside from having a really great indie-rock scene in the late 1980s and 1990s): totally gorgeous landscape; not too many people; very good lamb; extremely progressive arts scene; generally temperate weather; amusing feuds with Australia; you’re never far from the coastline; it’s amazing how people can live when their government doesn’t spend obscene amounts on the military; etc., etc.
Could I really live there? Not sure. A fun fantasy, although the reality might be trickier.
Do you think there’s a sense in which the passage of time distorts our sense of what makes an outstanding team uniform? For instance, take the recent Pittsburgh Steelers throwbacks: Personally, I thought they were pretty cool both in their design and as a link to their past. But I’m also pretty sure that had they never been used before and had instead been unveiled as an entirely new team look, I would’ve thought they were an outrageous and gimmicky –- sort of the way I feel about the updated Seahawks, Bengals, etc. uniforms. Your take?
I think time distorts our sense of good and bad. Things that seem gimmicky at first can evolve in our minds to the point where they eventually seem reasonable or even classic.
There’s all sorts of background context that can color our evolving perceptions, including the kinds of discussions we have on sites like Uni Watch. Twenty years ago, there was almost no media coverage of uniforms, no web forums, etc. So whatever you thought about a given design, you pretty much thought it by yourself, without having to (or being able to) discuss it with a wider group of fans. Nowadays, however, we all express our uni opinions, and I think this background dialogue affects our own opinions — in part because other people’s views have shaped our own, and in part because we may subconsciously adapt our own views to match (or oppose) those of other people.
In short: No opinion or standard exists in a vacuum. Everything’s always evolving.
What kind of car do you have? What was your first?
My first car was a beat-up Ford Escort. My college girlfriend and I bought it for peanuts. It didn’t last long.
Since then, I’ve mostly owned boring, practical Japanese cars. Not much point in having a cool car in NYC — if the vandals don’t get to it, the potholes will. I currently drive a 2002 Mitsubishi Galant, which I purchased in 2007. I like it just fine, not least because its color is metallic hunter green. It’s the first green car I’ve ever owned, but it definitely won’t be the last.
If you could travel back in time and prevent one uniform from ever coming into existence, which uniform would it be?
The Devil Rays’ inaugural set, with the color gradation. Such a disaster.
How many hits a day does Uni Watch average? Do you have any idea what kind of click-throughs you generate on ads?
The site tends to get over 15,000 visits per weekday, a bit less on weekends. I do not track our click-throughs, although our advertisers tell me they’re pleased with theirs ads’ performance. Of course, even an unclicked ad has value, since it essentially functions as a billboard that enhances the advertiser’s presence, increases the advertiser’s legitimacy in the public mind, and so on.
What is your favorite national anthem and what is your least favorite?
I’m not a student of the genre, so I don’t feel qualified to comment.
Given your dietary/culinary preferences, are your cholesterol levels sky-high?
Although I love talking about meat, thinking about meat, reading about meat, looking at photos of meat, cooking meat, etc., I don’t actually eat meat on a daily basis or anything like that. Also, I exercise just about every day. Also-also, I have Cheerios for breakfast just about every day. All of which probably explains why my cholesterol, at last check, was about 150, with a favorable “good to bad” ratio.
Who are some of your favorite authors? Or, if you prefer, what are some of your favorite books?
The sad truth is that I don’t read nearly enough books, and especially not enough fiction, but here are some favorites: Ball Four by Jim Bouton; Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson; The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker; Macbeth by Shakespeare; The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne; High Fidelity by Nick Hornby; Clandestine by James Ellroy; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
What are your favorite books, movies, and albums?
Books: See above.
Movies: His Girl Friday, Days of Heaven, Time Indefinite, Taxi Driver, Radio Days, Badlands, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Monsters Inc., There Will Be Blood, Buffalo ’66, Goodfellas, Life Is Sweet, Butcher Boy, Ratcatcher, Starship Troopers, and lots of documentaries.
Albums: I prefer to think in terms of recording artists, not albums. I think I’ve listed these before, but once more won’t hurt: Stones, Ramones, Velvets, Television, Big Star, Dylan, Costello, Richard and Linda Thompson, Little Walter, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Mountain Goats, Portastatic, Breeders, Eels, the Hold Steady, Cheap Trick, the Clean, Tall Dwarfs, Susquehanna Industrial Tool + Die Company, Faron Young, Louvin Bros., Bob Wills, Otis Redding, Howard Tate, Monk, Trane, Ben Webster, etc.
What’s the worst part about having a broken arm?
I can’t wash my hands properly, because of my cast. You know that line about “the sound of one hand clapping”? I’ve gotten used to the ritual of one hand washing. Extremely unsatisfying. (I manage to keep the other hand clean, but I can’t do it simply by running my hands under the faucet and soaping up.) Also, I can’t sleep in a few of the positions I prefer, which is a pain. Also-also, I tend to get tired very easily, I guess because my body is busy healing or whatever, so I find myself needing an early afternoon nap and/or falling asleep on the sofa at 9:30pm.
Have you ever considered writing a book about uniforms?
Yeah, but it almost seems too obvious. I already spend way too much time thinking/writing about uniforms. Taking on an extra uni-devoted project doesn’t excite me. I’d rather pursue non-uni side projects (like Permanent Record, Show & Tell, etc.).
Is there any hope that we’ll one day see NFL or college football games broadcast primarily using the zipline camera? I think the view is far superior to the sideline view, but Commissioner Goodell recently made a comment about HD television broadcasts potentially hurting NFL ticket sales. Might an improved camera angle, in the Commissioner’s view, have the same effect, and lead to a conspiracy to marginalize the zipline view?
I have no idea.
I noticed on the Playbook section of ESPN’s website that they have a running clock showing how long it has been since the last editorial accident. What exactly qualifies as an “accident” in this sense? Would a typo by a writer that makes it through reset the clock once it was pointed out?
I have no idea.
You have taken very definitive stances on things that could be deemed political or controversial. What’s your goal on taking these positions? Are you trying to spur on debate or are you trying to change hearts and minds?
Before I address your question, I want to point out that “controversial” is a very subjective and elastic term. For the most part, we find something to be “controversial” only if we disagree with it. Labeling something as “controversial” is a handy way of diminishing it before you’ve even dealt with its substance. It’s worth remembering that some people find the very existence of Uni Watch to be “controversial,” because they think it’s ridiculous for anyone to care about uniforms. Just something to think about.
Now then: Whether I’m arguing in favor of stirrups or in opposition to camouflage uniforms, my goals are the same: to get people to think a bit harder, to encourage dialogue, and to persuade.
What is your view on all the states that have names based on Native American tribes? Does it bother you, like Native American-based team names bother you? Or is it okay since a state like Illinois isn’t using any Native American imagery?
Place names are not the same as team names. For one thing, the state of Illinois is not a commercial, profit-seeking entity. It is not exploiting Native American imagery to sell tickets (or T-shirts, or jerseys, or anything else).
That said, some relatively minor place names, like a back road called Nigger Fork or a small body of water called Little Negro Creek, can and should be changed. Realistically, though, even if you can come up with a good ethical argument for changing the name of the state of Illinois, that’s not going to happen. It would be too much of a logistical nightmare.
Changing a team’s name, though? Perfectly doable. And in the case of the Redskins and Indians, they should do it.
You’ve discussed various uni concepts that never made it onto the field (Jacksonville’s full-body jaguar helmet, e.g.). What are your top five uni designs that should have received the green light?
I’m not so sure I’ve ever seen a prototype design that made me think, “Wow, I wish they’d gone ahead with that!” Or maybe I just never thought about it that way — my usual thought upon seeing a prototype is to imagine what might have been, not whether it should have been.
Also, thanks to desktop design, tons of people (maybe including you!) are designing their own concepts for their favorite teams. Although few if any of these ever reach the physical-prototype phase, they’re still valid expressions of design, and sometimes they’re quite good. When I do “Let’s Redesign [Some Team]” features on ESPN, I’m always impressed by the quality of some of the submissions. There are definitely some of those that I wish had made it onto the field.
You are sentenced to death row for, clearly for something you didn’t do. What do you want for your last meal?
There’s a great R&B tune by Little Freddie and the Ripcords, called “The Last Meal,” about a guy on death row. It’s time for his last meal and the warden tells him:
Whatever you want
We’ll go out and get it
You don’t have to go
’Til we come back with it
So the guy proceeds to ask for a bunch of stuff that’s impossible to get: dinosaur eggs over easy, a rainwater cocktail, a whole hippopotamus, a mosquito wing salad, some wavy gravy, and so on. And that way he manages to forestall his execution.
So it’s tempting to go that route. But I’d probably just ask for a mixed grill from Hill Country Barbecue and leave it at that. At least I’d die with a smile on my face.
I know you like to bowl. What’s your average? What’s your high game?
My average is about 170 (and three beers). My high game is 231. That was about 18 years ago — shit. I can crack 200 with semi-regularity, but I almost never sniff 220.
What did your parents do for a living?
They ran an interior decorating store on Long Island, selling curtains, bedspreads, blinds, custom slipcovers, that kind of thing. My father took over the business from his father. My two brothers and I all helped out in the store and went out to people’s houses to help with installations while we were in high school (I will never forget accompanying my father to help install a set of really tacky motorized vertical blinds in someone’s really tacky house), and it was always made clear to us that we could move into the business if we wanted to, but there was never any pressure on any of us to do so, and we all ended up choosing other paths. Personally, I was never the least bit interested. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I was pretty sure that running the store wasn’t it. My parents shut down the store in 1986, I believe because the landlord wanted to triple the rent or something like that. Last time I checked, the storefront was occupied by a bridal shop.
When you contact people to interview for your Permanent Record stories, how do you approach introducing yourself and the fact that you have their ancestor’s report card? Do any of them ever perceive that as creepy or awkward?
Even though I’ve now done it dozens of times, making contact with a report card family still makes me a bit nervous. I always hope that the person I’m calling isn’t home, because it’s easier to explain the situation to a voicemail robot than to a live person. Either way, I usually introduce myself by saying something like this:
My name is Paul Lukas, and I’m a journalist and historian based in Brooklyn, New York. I’ve been researching the stories behind some old report cards that I found in a discarded file cabinet. One of the report cards is for a student named [student's name], who I believe, based on my research, was your [mother, aunt, or whatever]. The report card is a remarkable document — it even has a photograph of [student's name] from when she was about 15 — and I’d love to show it to you. If you’re willing, I’d also love to interview you and learn more about what happened to [student's name] in her adult life.
I realize it can seem odd for a stranger to be calling out of the blue and asking questions about your family, and I’m very sensitive to any concerns you may have in that regard. If you have any questions about me or my work, please don’t hesitate to ask.
That’s the basic pitch. Some people are very receptive; others are a little cautious and guarded; and a few want nothing to do with me. I’m very aware that not every family relationship is a happy one, and that some family histories can be explosive. I’m not looking to stir up old resentments or reopen old wounds. So if someone doesn’t want to deal with me, I accept that and move on. I’d say about 80% of the people I’ve contacted, however, have agreed to talk with me. Some of them turn out to be poor interviews — either they don’t have much information and/or they’re not good at conveying it — but I’m always happy to do the interviews all the same. Feels like a privilege to have people share their family histories with me.
Is it written anywhere by the the NCAA that football uniforms can only display the manufacturers logo on the front of the jersey? Is this just the preference of every school or conference? I’ve always thought the logos would look better on the sleeves like the NFL jerseys.
I think front placement is the preference of the manufacturers, who have successfully lobbied the NCAA for the prime real estate on the front of the jersey. The NFL hasn’t caved on this point. Yet.
Do you like prunes? Like prune danish or prune hamantashen?
Not a huge fan, but I can certainly eat them when called upon to do so by social circumstance.
Back in the day, jerseys were primarily made of five different pieces of material: back, front, shoulder yoke, and two sleeves. Today’s jerseys, especially in football, have so many different pieces and types of material that they look like memory quilts. Are there any benefits to the new designs or is it so much marketing hokum (re: Reebok Edge)? I’m still not happy that “technology” forced the Dallas Stars to abandon one of the best jerseys of all time.
It’s worth noting that jersey tailoring used to be based primarily on conventional shirt tailoring (and, in the case of baseball jerseys, still is). But athletes don’t move like normal people do, their bodies are dealing with fairly extreme temperature and perspiration conditions, and they’re often wearing lots of equipment under their jerseys, so it doesn’t strike me as surprising or inappropriate that jersey tailoring has evolved into its own realm, fully distinct from regular shirt tailoring.
I think the visual treatment of certain uniform “innovations” is indeed just branding hooey (I’m talking about you, Nikelace). And I agree that the patchwork of jersey panels that we now often see is visually displeasing, and that it sucks that certain graphics have been adjusted or scrapped altogether due to the new tailoring. I don’t think the new tailoring and new fabrics themselves are bogus, however. The incremental changes we hear about at each uni unveiling are ridiculous (“This jersey is 0.007% lighter than our last jersey, and wicks away 1.2% more moisture…”), but the generational changes over time have no doubt been substantial and legitimate. If you were to dress a football team in circa-1970 Durene jerseys and dress another team in contemporary Nike jerseys, I believe the Nike-clad team would have a genuine performance advantage (although the Durene-clad team would no doubt look better).
Is this the direction you thought uni design would go in 5-10 years ago — camo, sweatbacks, etc. — or did you see something else coming that hasn’t happened yet?
I’m not a good trend forecaster. Hell, if you had told me that people would willingly line up to buy $200 polyester shirts, and that this willingness would end up being the most potent factor driving contemporary uniform design, I never would’ve believed it.
You certainly appear to be into vintage and reused items. Are there certain things you prefer to have vintage, and other things you prefer to buy new?
I generally prefer vintage clothing (socks, underwear, and footwear notwithstanding), for a variety of reasons: I like old design styles and tailoring cuts, I like how older clothes tend to have been better made than new clothes are today, I like recycling things, and I especially like thinking about who wore or owned something before I did — I enjoy that sense of an object having a story. (Obviously that applies to all sorts of old things, not just clothing.)
Looking around my house, most of my furniture was either vintage or inherited, and most of the stuff on my walls is vintage-y in some way. Again, I like how these things all have stories to tell. They often have things to teach me, too — I’ve learned so much just by poking around in antiques shops and rummage sales.
I have a few vintage and inherited kitchen implements, but I’d say most of my kitchen arsenal was purchased new. I’ve never owned a vintage bike, nor do I want to. I know people who like to take old electronics (computers, cell phones, etc.) and upgrade them, but that holds no interest to me — I’ll take the shiny new technology, thanks.
From a Brooklynite perspective, has the opening of the new arena for the Nets been the pain in the ass that it was expected to be?
Two of my biggest concerns were parking and traffic, and local reports are that they’re both not as bad as had been feared, although I haven’t been able to gauge that myself (one consequence of breaking my arm is that I can’t drive). I did walk to one event at the arena, however, and was impressed by how pedestrian and vehicular traffic both seemed to be pretty reasonable, both before and after the event, despite the event being a sellout. This gives me hope that the arena won’t be too much of a logistical nuisance. Of course, that won’t bring back all the things that have already been lost (my favorite bar is closed, my favorite sporting goods store is closed, a favorite local building no longer exists, friends had to move, etc., etc.), but it’s a small glimmer of good news nonetheless.
Why is it that whenever a uni-centric topic makes its way into mainstream sports news, you never seem to show up on ESPN TV or radio as a correspondent/expert?
I do, occasionally. When the Maryland flag uniforms came out last year, I appeared on Outside the Lines and did a lot of radio. But it’s true that I don’t have a big broadcast/cable presence. Why? I think it’s a combination of the following:
• Lots of media mainstream media members, including some ESPN TV and radio folks, still think of the uniform beat as something trivial or silly. They’re not usually all that inclined to talk about it. And if talking about it becomes unavoidable, they don’t necessarily want an “expert” on board — they just want to riff on it themselves.
• Although I’m an ESPN columnist, I produce much more content here on this site than on ESPN. So I think it’s easy for many broadcast and cable folks to view me as “just a blogger” and therefore not worthy of airtime.
• Even if ESPN wanted to have me appear regularly on, say, SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight, I’d have to move to Bristol, which I’m not willing to do.
• I haven’t really lobbied that hard for airtime. I don’t necessarily mind doing TV (I did a lot of it in the ’90s, when I had a weekly five-minute spot on CNN), but I’m not a natural at it either. It’s work. It’s also really time-inefficient — doing a two-minute TV spot in a Manhattan studio usually entails at least a three-hour time commitment once you factor in subway travel both ways. Obviously, the exposure is nice, but my experience is that TV exposure doesn’t really change your life (or at least not mine). At the end of the day, I’m a writer, and I’m most comfortable writing. If other TV and radio stuff comes along, that’s fine, but I don’t go looking for it, I don’t have an agent, I don’t want to live the kind of life that a serious TV presence would require, and so on.
You are pretty blunt on your opinions on how the practices of big businesses like Nike, Under Armour, the NFL, Papa John’s, etc. can oftentimes be looked upon as greedy, money-grubbing, or in poor taste. Yet you are a regular contributor to ESPN, part of one of the largest media conglomerates in the world. ESPN, in my mind, blurs the line between true journalism and looking out for its own interests (i.e., revenue), whether it’s having analysts who sensationalize stories for ratings, covering certain events more favorably because of their TV contracts, or bowing down to the demands of the leagues they service. How do you justify collecting a paycheck from such a company?
I think about my professional relationships all the time, and I learned a long time ago that there’s no such thing as a perfect media enterprise to write for. Back in the ’90s, I was the marketing columnist for Fortune magazine and the travel columnist for Money magazine, both of which are published by Time Inc., which in turn is owned by Time-Warner. Time Inc. publishes a lot of dreck, including People, In Style, etc.; Time-Warner puts out tons of bad movies and music, owns a miserable cable service, and so on. Is that a good enough reason not to write for any of their magazines? I don’t mean that rhetorically — it’s a legitimate question.
For that matter, even Fortune and Money published a lot of stuff that made me roll my eyes. But I was lucky enough to be working with very good editors who encouraged me to be myself and never asked me to conform to any preconceived company line or standard (aside from a standard of basic competence and professionalism, of course). I ultimately decided that while the Time-Warner machine was imperfect, it wasn’t evil. And by contributing my voice, I tried to make it a little better, or a little less imperfect, or something along those lines. Or to put it another way, even if Time-Warner was part of the problem, I felt like I could try to be (an admittedly teeny) part of the solution.
I view my relationship with ESPN in similar terms. Am I in love with everything ESPN does? No. On the other hand, they do plenty of extremely praiseworthy reporting, like the “Outside the Lines” and the “E:60″ series. My editors have always let Uni Watch be Uni Watch, and they have never done anything — anything — to stop me from doing “true journalism,” as you put it. When I’ve proposed fairly unusual story ideas (writing about my participation in a curling tournament, say, or writing about the woman who does the closed captioning at MLB stadiums), they’ve almost always said yes. I suppose you could say I’m playing into their agenda, but you could also say they’re also playing into mine. (Actually, I don’t think either of those things is true, but I’m just explaining that there of multiple ways of looking at this relationship.)
You may think I’m rationalizing, and maybe I am. But I’d like to think there are certain enterprises I’d never work for, in any capacity, under any circumstances. I can’t see myself working for Big Food or Big Oil, for example. Of course, Big Food and Big Oil advertise in venues that I’ve written for, including ESPN, so you could say I’m taking money from them anyway. If you think that makes me a hypocrite, I won’t argue too hard with you. I fully admit that I’m not as pure and principled as Gandhi, although I’d like to think that says more about him than it does about me.
One way to sidestep all these issues, of course, would be to write exclusively on my own sites (Uni Watch, Permanent Record, etc.) and to convert those sites to a paid-content model. That way there’d be no media-conglomerate middleman — just you and me. What do you say?
I’d like to know the purpose of those two holes on the side of a pizza box.
Not positive, but I believe it’s to let steam escape from the box and therefore prevent the pizza from getting soggy.
Can you please share some tasty, “can’t miss” appetizer recipes for a Christmas dinner?
Appetizers aren’t my strongest suit. Frankly, I’m not even sure what truly constitutes an appetizer, but here’s my favorite hors d’oeuvre, which can certainly double as an appetizer: bacon-wrapped dates. Guaranteed crowd-pleaser.
That’s it for this time around. We’ll do another installment of Question Time in a few months.
Culinary Corner: One of our annual holiday traditions here at Uni Watch is the publication of my recipe for homemade Irish cream. In other words, homemade Bailey’s. In other words, melted ice cream that gets you drunk. It’s super-easy to make, it’ll make you the hero of whatever Xmas party you bring it to, and lots of you have told me how much you like it. Here’s how to do it:
Start with some decent Irish whiskey — Bushmills, Jameson, Tullamore Dew, something like that (but not super-high-end stuff, because the nuances will be lost in this preparation). Pour a pint of the whiskey into a large-ish container and mix it with a can of sweetened condensed milk; a pint of heavy whipping cream; a tablespoon of chocolate syrup; a teaspoon of vanilla extract; a teaspoon of instant espresso dissolved in two tablespoons of hot water; and a quarter-teaspoon of almond extract.
Mix well (if the container has a tight lid, you can just shake vigorously), refrigerate, serve over ice, and get ready to become the most popular person in the room. No need to thank me afterward, but you’ll want to do so anyway — trust me.
ESPN reminder: In case you missed it yesterday, my latest ESPN column is about athletes who wear yarmulkes. As of this morning, it had well over 1000 Facebook likes and was the most-forwarded ESPN.com story of the past 24 hours, which of course just proves that Jews really do control the media.
Uni Watch News Ticker: David Wright wore the Mets’ new alt jersey and alt cap at his press conference yesterday. It’s hard to express how much I hate the white outlining on that cap logo. … Here’s the jersey patch for the BCS title game. … If you’re into Oakley glasses and visors, you might dig this Oakley lens sample kit. … New Rick Majerus memorial patches for Marquette, Utah, and Saint Louis. … Following up on an item from yesterday, here are more football teams, past and present, that have worn contrasting TV numbers: the Titans, the Raiders (that’s from early 1963), Ohio State, Northwestern, and of course the Jets (although that’s sort of cheating, because they have contrasting sleeves and are therefore forced to have contrasting TV numbers). … Good piece on English rugby kits over the years (from Josh Jacobs). … Outstanding slideshow of old soccer posters here (from Jack Coyier). … Surprising use of stirrups on this week’s Bengals program cover (from Brice Wallace). … Yesterday’s press photo for Also-Ran Uniform Outfitter Bowl shows an outdated Rutgers helmet (as noted by Griffin Whitmer). … Lots of ABA media guide covers here (from Leo Strawn, Jr.). … Kent State will have a new helmet for the Internet Domain Registrar Bowl (from Jody Michael). … Yesterday’s item about Patriots gas station illustrations prompted Jason Hillyer to send in this shot of his autographed Browns illustrations. “The three I got autographed were of Reggie Rucker, Dave Logan, and my favorite player, Brian Sipe,” he says. “Unfortunately, Sipe mis-heard me when I requested that he sign it, ‘To Jason,’ and instead he wrote, ‘To Dave.’ That’s why there’s a snapshot of me with Sipe covering the incorrect name.”