Burt Reynolds love affair with sports

Got assigned this story over the weekend and wasn’t quite sure where to start. Burt Reynolds spent a lifetime around sports, even though he hadn’t played since a knee injury in his college years at Florida State. He loved FSU football. He loved his former teammates, including our own Lee Corso. And he loved being around competitors. So, I just started making some calls and asking for folks’ favorite stories about Burt. They didn’t disappoint.

And, I must say, the highlight of all this is the Harry Gant footnote.

Enjoy… Burt Reynolds & Sports.

College Football Week 2 tiered rankings

Rankings are dumb. There’s an inherent significance put on a “top 25” team when, in reality, the margin between team No. 22 and team No. 28 is effectively zero.

Similarly, rankings suggest some level of certainty that team No. 3 is better than team No. 4, when in fact we have no real evidence of that at the moment.

So instead, the smartest way to order teams this time of year is in tiers. There are some teams that we’re pretty confident are great. There are some that look just a tick behind that. There are some that are pretty good but with lots more to prove. And there are some that are solid opponents, and certainly not pushovers, but also aren’t at all likely to make a run at the playoff.

So that’s how we’re setting this up. Here’s how it looks after Week 2.

TIER ONE: Elite (Teams that are on track for the playoff)

(6) Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Georgia, Wisconsin

TIER TWO: Pretty, pretty good (Teams that have playoff ability, but not quite there yet)

(4) Mississippi State, Auburn, Boise State, Washington

TIER THREE: On the margins (Teams in the conversation but with lots of work to do)

(13) Notre Dame, LSU, TCU, Stanford, Penn State, Oregon, UCF, BC, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami, Houston, Oklahoma State

TIER FOUR: Quality win for top 3 tiers (Teams that a win against them are legit resume boosters)

(18) Utah, A&M, Michigan, Ole Miss, Florida, Michigan State, Arizona State, South Carolina, Iowa, USC, Colorado, Duke, USF, Wake, NC State, Kentucky, Maryland, FAU

Week 2 ACC picks with Jared Shanker

OK, so the podcast plan didn’t quite work out. But we’ll never forget that one, glorious episode. Still, we’re going to keep making picks, break down the biggest game of the week and find a “celebrity” (and we use that term VERY loosely) guest each week. So, without further ado, let’s get to Week 2.

HALE: This week’s guest picker is our former ESPN/ACC colleague and Penn State alum, Mr. Jared Shanker.

Jared, your boys looked like crap in Week 1. What happened?

SHANKER: At least they didn’t lose to a team without a coach (looking at you, Texas). But it’s hard to place the blame on that PSU performance anywhere but the administration for tempting fates and hosting App State on the 11th anniversary of the Michigan upset. People forget App State is undefeated against Big Ten squads in Sept. 1 home openers (this is not fact-checked)

But really, I’m not surprised at what happened as I do think PSU takes a small step back, and App State is generally among the better G5 schools. It’s an interesting year for James Franklin because the talk I’ve had with coaches previously is Franklin is an ace recruiter and motivator and a great coach in his own right, but he’s not the elite Xs and Os guy. Which is fine in college when you have great assistants, but then how much does losing Joe Moorehead hurt?

HALE: So Jared, who do you think Penn State’s offense misses more: Barkley or Moorhead?

And Andrea, you’re going with Pitt. What has you picking the upset?

SHAKER: On Saturday: Barkley. He was one of five or so non-QBs last year who single handily changed games. As the year goes on, however, it’s Moorhead, because they’ll have some talent deficits vs. opponents.

ANDREA: Why Pitt? 1. Penn State looked fairly terrible against Appalachian State.

2. OK maybe the Nittany Lions were overlooking App State a little, but everybody on the Penn State side has made it clear they view Pitt as “just another game and “not a rival.” Sure, Jan.

3. Kenny Pickett is going to have a great game.

4. The Pitt D is much improved.

5. I was at the game in 2016, one of the best I have covered, and playing in Pittsburgh was a huge home-field advantage. I have never seen the tailgate lots at Heinz Field the way they were that day, and I anticipate more of the same Saturday. 6. Pat Narduzzi wants this game badly. And he does have this penchant for beating elite ranked teams so …


HALE: Dang it, I hate to agree with Andrea, but I think I do. For Penn State, this is a big game before the really big games. For Pitt, this is THE game. And even last year, in a Penn State blowout, it was a game more about Pitt’s failures than the Nittany Lions’ success. And I’m just not sold that Penn State has a clear offensive identity at this point. So upset it is.

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Why the best man can’t always win.

I’m not taking Ed Werder’s side here. I spend too much time on Twitter to face that backlash. And, to be sure, Werder is wrong. But I get where he’s coming from. Hear me out.

The hubbub started when a job opening at Sports Illustrated was posted by Charlotte Wilder on Twitter.

Werder responded by suggesting her post meant no men need apply and things got ugly from there.

This is obviously reading WAY too much into one tweet. Clearly, Wilder is simply suggesting that, as a woman gainfully employed with SI, she’d be interested in talking with other women interested in the job. This seems of little difference than anyone offering to help a friend network, or an alumnus of their same college. It’s just how business is done — which is one of the reasons this is such important an issue to discuss (stand by for more on that).

But Werder’s point hints at the underlying rationale for so many problems in our country right now. Werder is not wrong that it is tough for white men to find jobs in journalism because it is tough for anyone to find jobs in an industry that (aside from The Athletic) is shedding workers daily. Newspaper jobs, for example, have been halved in just 15 years.

So, we have a white male in a decaying industry upset at a perceived preference for non-white males to get one of the few good jobs remaining. That’s an entirely reasonable take, assuming you don’t want to think any deeper about it.

The problem, which, again, is so often the case, is that most of the people who have thought more deeply about it simply want to scold, laugh or shout out in opposition, when what is desperately needed is a calm, reasoned explanation about why Werder — and many others who probably believe exactly as he does — is wrong.

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I spend an awful lot of time these days at Clemson for football coverage. The regular beat there (if you include TV), includes four women and one additional non-white male. This is probably the most diverse beat I’ve been around.

When I covered Florida State a few years back, the beat included one black female and one black male (who, when he left for another job, was replaced by a white male), and that was about it.

When I covered Georgia a few years before that, I’m not sure there was a single woman or minority who routinely covered the team.

Now, consider that college football is a sport in which more than 60 percent of players are black. Now, consider that college football has a massive problem with sexual assault and women’s issues within its culture. And yet the vast majority — 90 percent wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest — of folks covering the sport are white men.

And this doesn’t end with college football, of course. When I covered the Phillies, the beat crew included exactly one person who spoke Spanish, (Rickie Ricardo!) while Hispanics make up 32 percent of MLB players.

When Werder suggests the most qualified person should land a job, he’s not wrong. But he neglects to see that, given the issues we’re facing in sports and elsewhere, being a woman or a person of color might well make you more qualified for this work than a white man, who, as Werder so clearly evidenced, can have an awfully narrow perspective.

No doubt this is already being framed by politics, and that makes some sense. The notion that white males are losing ground is at the heart of so much of our national conflict right now. I’m certainly not qualified to lecture on that, but I’d highly recommend Arlie Russell Hochschild’s “Strangers In Their Own Land,” which tackles this exact issue in wonderfully detailed fashion by actually listening to people rather than lecturing them.

But this cuts both ways. The reason the media was so (fairly, in this case) maligned after the 2016 election was because it had largely ignored the voices of so many people who lived outside of the typical metropolitan bubble. The reaction to that has spawned its own genre — the “safari in Trump country” story, which is often equally as tone deaf — which only underscores how problematic the demographics of newsrooms are. It’s not just a lack of women or minorities. It’s a lack of anyone whose perspective reflects the experiences of Middle America. As a Philadelphia native who has spent much of his adulthood in the South (and married a girl from Alabama), I see all the time the way the metropolitan media stereotypes the South with little regard for what life is actually like here. It is a legitimate problem.

Now let’s get back to that earlier point about networking. I’ve certainly worked my way up the ladder in journalism, but I’ve had a good bit of help, too, because I knew people. I worked with people who were like me, and therefore I was able to bond with them, form lasting relationships. I went to a good school, and I was able to talk with fellow alumni in the business who could help me out. I had connections, because other people who are just like me had good jobs already.

That’s often not the case for women. Or blacks. Or Hispanics. Or white men from small towns in the middle of nowhere. And that will never change if the person with the best-looking résumé is always the person hired. And maybe if things do start to change, if new ideas and voices and perspectives show up in the coverage of sports and elsewhere, maybe the landscape for journalism jobs starts to change, too. Maybe more readers will see themselves in their news coverage and buy a paper or tune in to a studio show. Maybe rather than fighting over scraps, we should be thinking of ways to make the pie a little bigger.


The best stories I wrote this year (which isn’t to say they’re good, just that I wrote them and they contain minimal spelling errors)

I’m not a fan of self-promotion, but I’m posting this more as an appreciation of the folks I got to write about in 2017. So, here are my favorite stories I wrote this year, and why I enjoyed writing them so much.

If you’re looking for other great writing, my top 10 for the year, my favorite political reads and my honorable mention lists are all up.

* Manny Diaz is finally home

Manny Diaz grew up in Miami. He cut his teeth on football at the old Orange Bowl, watching games with his dad. His father was mayor of the city, was a key player in the Elian Gonzalez story. That Diaz has found so much success with the Hurricanes in the past two years is a terrific homecoming story.

All of this was written before the advent of the Turnover Chain, of course, but I think it’s clear how much Diaz understands Miami, understands its players, and embraces the essence of what The U means to the city.


* Clemson’s best dive bar

One of ESPN’s editors had a plan to write about food this season. His pitch: An Anthony Bourdain-like trip around college football. The idea didn’t entirely take off this season, but as the Waffle House feature noted in my previous post shows, we did do some fun food features. This was another. My story on Clemson’s Esso Club was some of the most fun I’ve had reporting this year, with all the colorful details you’d expect from a place like the Esso, and it got about as much attention as anything I wrote.

Continue reading The best stories I wrote this year (which isn’t to say they’re good, just that I wrote them and they contain minimal spelling errors)

Stories that warrant being mentioned honorably that did not manage to crack my top 10 for 2017

I ranked my 10 favorite stories of the year earlier because that’s what you’re supposed to do with these lists but those hardly represented all the great stuff I read this year.

(Note: Last year’s list of best stories can be found HERE.)

So, while I highly recommend you checking out the top 10 HERE, I’m also including a more extensive list of great reads from 2017.

I separated out stories on Trump because some of you may be inclined to avoid them. If not, have at it HERE.

And if you’re OK with a little self-promotion, HERE are my favorite stories I got to write this past year.

Now, on with the list…

Because food is always a great topic for writing, some great stories on how what (and where) we eat impacts our lives, we’ve got a few that fit that angle.


* My friend Dave Wilson doesn’t write a ton for ESPN — he mostly edits stuff from lesser writers like myself. But boy, when he finds a good subject, he can run with it, as he does here on the subject of Waffle House as religion among college football fans. I’m not sure I read a story this year with better quotes than Wilson got for this. His secret, he told me, was simply sticking around long enough to get them. That’s something every reporter should remember.

Some of the best:

“The syrup,” she says, “gets in your veins.”


“Its warm, yellow glow, a beacon of hope and salvation, inviting the hungry, the lost, the seriously hammered all across the South to come inside, a place of safety and nourishment.”


“There’s no goat cheese and garlic here,” said Blake Tanner, an area vice president. “Just straight-up eatin’.”

Continue reading Stories that warrant being mentioned honorably that did not manage to crack my top 10 for 2017

The best things I read on Donald Trump and the end of society as we know it in 2017

I posted my 10 favorite stories of 2017 earlier. I will post lots more “honorable mentions” in a bit. But, of course, Donald Trump so dominated the news that he deserved (is that the right word?) his own section.

There was a lot of good journalism done and some not so good stuff. But, these pieces were all terrific.


* This from David From in The Atlantic is one of the most important reads of the year — not because it savages Trump (though it does) but because it showcases just how essential it is that we don’t let ourselves be beaten down by all the ways in which Trump has utilized his power.

The home run paragraph:

By filling the media space with bizarre inventions and brazen denials, purveyors of fake news hope to mobilize potential supporters with righteous wrath—and to demoralize potential opponents by nurturing the idea that everybody lies and nothing matters. A would-be kleptocrat is actually better served by spreading cynicism than by deceiving followers with false beliefs: Believers can be disillusioned; people who expect to hear only lies can hardly complain when a lie is exposed. The inculcation of cynicism breaks down the distinction between those forms of media that try their imperfect best to report the truth, and those that purvey falsehoods for reasons of profit or ideology. The New York Times becomes the equivalent of Russia’s RT; The Washington Post of Breitbart; NPR of Infowars.

The elections we’ve seen in 2018 — in Virginia and Alabama, in particular — offer some hope that cynicism isn’t the overwhelming emotion of the Trump era, but the machine will continue to push us toward that if we do not actively fight to avoid it.

* There have been so many stories about Trump and racism and America going to hell, and it’s always quite clear who the good guys and the bad guys are. This wonderful piece from Stephanie McCrummen in the Washington Post about a Muslim doctor fearful that his hometown has abandoned him plays with expectations a bit, doing a better job of drawing three-dimensional portraits of the people on both sides of the story in a way few others have done.

* I’ve read a lot of Ta-Nehisi Coates this year. I struggle with a lot of it for myriad reasons, but as a white male, it always feels like I’m being let in on a conversation between people who would normally never trust me with their feelings. This look at how race is not just a part of Trump’s rise, but the overwhelming cause of it, is so boldly argued and unflinchingly supported by history and data that it’s impossible to ignore.

* Also in The Atlantic, Adam Serwer writes what I think is arguably the most important story on Trump and race that I’ve seen. No one thinks they are a racist. Hell, even the neo-Nazis won’t just come out and say it. But racism is at the heart of so much of today’s rhetoric, and Serwer’s essay is so unwaveringly certain of itself that it’s conclusions feel genuinely earned.

* The ultimate question in our current era of tribalism: What do we do when facts don’t matter? The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert looks at why people are so willing to overlook evidence in favor of opinion and in Scientific American, Michael Shermer looks at how we argue with each other when facts aren’t enough.

* If not for the John Boehner story in my top 10, this New Yorker profile of Mike Pence probably would’ve been my favorite political profile piece of the year. Jane Mayer found so many great nuggets that it was a talking point for the left for weeks, and yet I think some of the biggest implications — for example, that Pence really isn’t that bright — were largely ignored.

* Much was made after the election of the so-called media bubble. Politico does a deep dive, and the results are… concerning.

* This tale of how the Washington Post flipped the tables on conservative scandal makers is so terrific and, for us journalists, feels like something of a superhero story.