I’m a 7 at best: An open letter to Richard Deitsch

A funny thing happened last night when I least expected it.

I came across this picture of a Kentucky fan that bore a striking resemblance to “Poor Decision-Making Rob Lowe.”

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Pretty funny right? It quickly swept its way across the Internet, giving the guy his 15 minutes of fame. My timeline was full of friends and even colleagues having a laugh at one of the most outrageous pictures you’ll ever see. Pretty harmless right?

Apparently not.

A few minutes after I tweeted out the picture with the Rob Lowe caption, I see a reply enter my mentions column from someone I’ve followed and admired for years: Sports Illustrated Media Critic Richard Deitsch.

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A quick backstory on Richard and I’s relationship. We’ve chatted a handful of times, over e-mail and Twitter, and I’ve even had work featured in his weekly Media Circus column over the years — something I considered a prestigious honor. Every now and then we’ll take part in some playful banter on Twitter about who-knows-what, but my fascination and passion for the world of sports and entertainment media makes his handle a must-follow. He’s lended me career advice and complimented my work enough times for me to think we’re on good terms.

So why was Richard making a thinly-veiled shot across the bow at me because of this picture? I have one (and that’s all this is) educated guess.

Richard and Clay Travis are mortal enemies, and have been for years. Last spring, I contributed to Clay’s website, Outkick the Coverage, for several months before leaving FOX Sports 1 for ESPNU. I won’t bore you with the details, but in short, Clay and Richard have their differences in how the landscape of sports media on the Internet (or any other platform, for that matter) should be used. Their Twitter Wars are memorable.

Richard made it no secret that my association with Clay was not a smart one in his eyes. From late December:

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I didn’t feel the need to counter-punch. I took it in stride. Richard has told me in both private and public forum that he sees the potential in me, and to be honest I appreciate that he notices me at all. I’m 24 years old and very much still at the bottom of the mountain when it comes to achieving my career goals (more on that in a minute), so for Deitsch to take a seemingly invested (albeit smart-alecky) interest in me is nothing but reassuring.

The picture in question above is exactly the type of content Clay’s website thrives upon, so I can see where the connection between my tweet and my relationship with Clay could be drawn.

Let me make one thing clear now: I do not want to be Clay Travis. I could NEVER be Clay Travis. Clay has carved out a tremendous niche for himself based on a talent that is cleverly crafted and unique to him. He also has bigger balls than I could ever have. Is he a journalist? No, I wouldn’t say that. I don’t think he would either. He’s an entertainer, a satirist. He pokes the bear and crosses the line, and has become an extremely polarizing figure in my industry. Based on his current job, and income, I’d say he’s filling a void in the market pretty well. Even if I wanted to do what Clay does, I couldn’t.

Anyway, back to Thursday night’s Twitter kerfuffle.

Here are the next few tweets in our exchange:

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(A quick clarification: the link Deitsch posted was of 50 Cent SMH’ing)

I tried to put out the fire quickly by explaining to Richard that I’m just having some fun on Twitter — which the last time I checked was perfectly OK — but RD wasn’t having it.

Richard and I have talked before about taping a podcast together. I’ve been wanting to start my own show for several years now and he is on the very short list of guests I would love to have on in the beginning.

Sadly, Richard made it clear I’ve fallen out of favor with him over my Twitter Joke. I’ve been reduced to another Hot Taker/Troll that no longer has any “promise.”

At this point in the exchange, I’m ready to move on. It is what is is. I’m not going to beg for Richard’s respect. That’s something I have to earn from anyone.

But then something happened that completely caught me by surprise — something I never thought I would read on this particular timeline.

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Wow.

Maybe Richard was putting his tongue in his cheek. Maybe it was all in good fun. Maybe he has a crush on me. Who knows?

It was then that I decided to take his advice and start doing some reporting.

For as long as Deitsch has owned a Twitter account, he has been a champion for gender equality and the fight against sexism/stereotypes in sports media (if not the world). He’s incredibly vocal in his praise for female sports personalities and is quick to criticize both fans and journalists who show disrespect towards females based on their appearance. I applaud him for that. I am a firm believer that there are plenty of women trying to make it in this male-dominated industry who should never have to hear or read, let alone pay attention to, people publicly shaming them about their appearance instead of focusing on their work. The television industry in particular is a shallow one, sadly, but it’s a battle that is entirely worth fighting.

So why, then, would Richard make a comment to me that makes him sound exactly like the naive and despicable fans he so strongly excoriates all the time?

Going back as far as 2011, here are some examples of Richard’s well-intentioned fight against sexism, gender stereotypes, and more:

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Let’s start with the tweet in the upper left. Reducing someone’s work, self-worth and all-around humanity to an opinion based on looks is a horrible thing to do.

As you saw from last night, Richard tells me that eventually I’ll no longer be able to rely on my looks to do my job.

It’s funny though, because I didn’t start and run my own website covering ACC sports as a 19-year-old college sophomore because someone told me I was attractive. I didn’t break major news stories while on the Virginia Tech football beat, scooping seasoned professionals whose job it was to get those stories, because I have a crooked smile. ESPN didn’t hire me to intern as a researcher because of my blonde hair. They didn’t hire me back full-time in February of my senior year of college without even interviewing me again because they thought I was hot.

When I got to ESPN, I didn’t become (to my knowledge) the youngest person to ever sit in the producer’s chair during an ESPN studio broadcast because of my crooked nose. When my happily married, heterosexual boss left ESPN to join Fox Sports 1, he didn’t call me hours after leaving Bristol offering me a job to join him because I’m good-looking.

My Sports Emmy nomination at 23 years old was as a producer, not as a pretty face.

To be honest, if my career was determined by my physical appearance, I ought to be pretty ashamed right now. I’ve been in front of the camera for a grand total of maybe 30 minutes in my life. I’ve made a name for myself as a writer and a producer. If we’re being honest, looks are probably the last thing I have going for me right now. But hey, I was pretty tan (thanks LA) and actually smiled right for once in my Twitter avatar so Richard can judge away.

Anyone who truly knows me is well aware of what I hope to become one day. I am working towards becoming the best on-air sports personality I can be. I love sports (college sports mostly), I love talking about sports, and one day I hope to be paid enough to make a decent living doing just that. I love journalism and I think it is an extremely important enterprise in the world of sports today.

Here’s the thing, though: my job right now as a producer at ESPNU is to find the most entertaining content each day and put it on TV. Sometimes I’m assigned to cut montages for shows like the College Football Awards, National Signing Day, the Under Armour All-American Game, and more — assignments that require absolutely no journalistic practices whatsoever. To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of it. But it’s my job and I do it to the best of my ability. Many other times, I’m charged with finding or creating viral stories across the web — which requires some basic journalistic skills — news judgement, timeliness, human interest — but no one is going to confuse me for Chief White House Correspondent any time soon. I do the job I’m paid to do. My bosses know where I hope to end up. If I do my job really well right now, it will hopefully open up those doors for me in the future.

In the cluster of tweets above, one of them includes Deitsch lamenting the fact that Cowherd did not back up an assertion made on his radio show with any factual evidence to support it. In my mind, that is exactly what Richard did at my expense Thursday night.

Am I mad? Not really.

Offended? Absolutely.

I would never reduce anyone’s accomplishments to physical appearance, male or female, and to have one of the foremost voices in my business make a comment — even it was in jest (and I’d be giving him the benefit of the doubt to say that) — that belittles my career up to this point because of how I look, is shocking and insulting.

In 2013, Deitsch welcomed a panel of well-known female voices in sports media for a roundtable discussion on the evolution of the business.

Some of the questions included:

  • How much sexism exists today in sports media?
  • You are all on Twitter. How often do you get tweets related to your appearance, gender or race (or all of the above) and what impact do they have?
  • What, if any, personal experiences do you have when it comes to sexism — either institutionalized or overt?

There was also a story he linked to back in December featuring a Q&A with Doris Burke:

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The interview included questions about Burke’s family background, her basketball career, her preparation tactics and even her advice for handling the daunting Gregg Popovich sideline interviews. Yet in his tweet linking the piece, Deitsch described it as an interview “on gender criticism and the role of physical appearance for women in television.”

He’s right, it was an important topic in the interview. There is nothing the least bit wrong with him using that angle to sell the story to his 100,000+ followers.

Based on the information I’ve presented above — both the tweets and articles he’s either penned or linked to — it’s not hard to see that Richard has an agenda to publicize and subsequently eradicate the use of physical appearance as a tool for judgment on media personalities in sports.

I think I’ve made my point by now. The irony in his comments directed at me last night should be apparent to everyone.

Richard is 1000 times the journalist I am. He’s enjoyed a distinguished career that has afforded him a tremendous amount of influence in a business where that’s hard to come by. I’m sure he’s made mistakes far greater than this one in his career. I’m just a blip on his radar. I’ve made too many mistakes to count already and I do my best to learn from each and every one. I’m certainly not going to hold this against him for a long time. Honestly, I’ll be over it tomorrow. I just can’t sit back and let a titan like him send lightning strikes down on me from above without at least showing a little pride.

I have a lot to learn as my career unfolds. No one understands that more than me. Richard, if you’re reading this I hope you realize how valuable your column, tweets, and links have been in helping me along the twisted path I call a career. I hope that you continue to be such a valuable resource for me.

I just hope you don’t make the same mistake you did with me when the stakes are any higher.

Four Really Dumb Ideas For Sports That Should All Totally Happen

Sports, collectively, might be the most popular source of entertainment in America.They’re basically saving the television industry as we know it. Very rich people open up their very large checkbooks to pay for everything from rights fees and team ownership,  to season tickets, League Pass and more.

It would seem like sports are, more or less, perfect.

Yet for some reason, it seems like we’re doing everything we can to change them.

Major League Baseball, which is desperately trying to attract viewers who can’t answer the question “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?”, has tested out a handful of rules to speed up the games this spring training. Not only is it apparently not working, umpires are more or less ignoring the changes. 

The National Football League’s owners are meeting this week in Arizona, and all of a sudden the hottest topic in the league is about changing extra points.

After the most unwatchable season in perhaps the history of college basketball, the NCAA is experimenting shortening the shot clock and widening the restricted-area arc to try and “open up the game.”

All of these possible changes have at least given us something to talk about…but why not think bigger? If you want to really enact change, you have to be BOLD!

Let’s really shake things up. You want more viewers? Make some real changes.

There have been plenty of failed attempts to create what I call “Spinoff Sports”.

The XFL started off hot, but cooled quickly and folded after a year.

And then there was SLAMBALL.

After watching that clip, all I can say is WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

Instead of accepting the fact that Slamball is an idea as ludicrous as it is brilliant that can basically print its own money with TV deals, these jokers turned down the chance to become THE NEXT WWE because it would make them “lose credibility.” Then some other guy has the balls to actually mention the word “olympics.” Considering they don’t even have wrestling in the olympics anymore, I don’t think Slamball will make the cut anytime soon.

The only real spinoff sport that’s found sustained success is the Arena Football League. Even the AFL has had its ups and downs, but for more than 20 years it’s been able to stay afloat and whet the appetite of this football-crazed country during the NFL’s off-season.

What do Slamball and Arena Football have in common? They took two immensely popular sports and made just a few MAJOR changes to the rules/playing surface to create games that attract viewers. Attracting viewers means attracting money. We like money.

So here’s what I’m going to do: take a game we all love and change it in a completely irrational and utterly ridiculous way to make it even better. Here are a few really dumb, but kinda cool ideas for other sports spinoffs that need to happen soon:

DOUBLE-BASKETBALL

This is simple but probably my favorite. It’s like regular basketball, but instead of one hoop in the center of the lane, put two hoops on each end in the corners. Here’s the catch: it’s only on one end of the court, so each team gets one half to shoot on the double-basket end. The only other change to the floor you’d have to make is to the three-point line. Otherwise what used to be a corner three is suddenly a lay-up. Pretty awesome right?

Let’s talk strategy. On offense, how do you space the floor? Say goodbye to “rim protectors.” Teams could not afford to stick it’s biggest guy underneath the basket because, well, there are two baskets. To be honest, it might make centers obsolete. You need fast, athletic guys who are a threat to move across the court and score on either basket. Just when it looks like you’re heading to one hoop, BOOM — cross-court alley-oop time.

I would think the game would start with a coin toss like football so one team has the option to use the double-basket end during the first half or second half.

(I’m more than willing to take suggestions for a better name. Basketballs doesn’t make much sense, or BasketBasketBall, Basketball Basketball…they all suck.)

ONE STRIKE BASEBALL

This is a change that MLB should make today. You want to speed up the game? No more four-balls three-strikes nonsense. You get one ball and one strike. Start swinging the bats boys. Pitchers, you better put the ball over the plate, lest you load the bases on three straight pitches off the black.

Oh, and also, steroids are 200% legal here.

You think watching pitchers throw meat to batters who are juiced out of their mind wouldn’t instantly make baseball 100 times more watchable?

Get Rob Manfred on the phone.

PEE-WEE SLAMBALL

I’m stealing this from the clip above. Let’s start the movement.

One of my favorite halftime “acts” I’ve ever seen was at an NHL game. As soon as the period ended, out poured literally 75 elementary school children in full uniform and they dropped a puck. It was pure and wonderful chaos. Ten minutes of 60-pound munchkins on skates with giant wooden sticks and a single slab of concrete sliding across the ice.

You can literally take anything in the world and it’s 100 times funnier when children are doing it. Talking, running, eating, everything. Why not take the most ridiculous sport ever invented and do it with children?

If you asked me to choose between a $20 ticket to watch the Hornets play the Nets tomorrow night or watch a hoard of pre-adolescents just straight posterizing kids left and right, I’m choosing the little guys every time.

TUG OF OAR

This one actually exists already, but I have to bring it up because I just saw it today and it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen*.

If ESPN will televise the freaking spelling bee, there’s got to be room for this.

I love this game if for nothing else but the name. Tug of Oar is pure genius.

* I don’t actually think it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.

Distractions

Man, it is easy to be distracted these days.

I’m happy with where I am in life. I’m productive. My rap sheet:

  • 24 years old
  • College degree
  • Great job.
  • Four home addresses in less than three years.

After spending the first 22 years of my life in essentially one place, all I wanted was to see a little more of the world. So far, so good.

There’s only one problem. I want to do everything. I want to see everything, read everything, be everything. And that’s impossible.

This may surprise a lot of people, but I actually don’t know exactly what I want to do, and I sure as hell don’t know who I want to be. For the first time in my life, I’m starting to realize that’s okay.

Here’s the problem with trying to do everything. It makes your life harder. So unnecessarily harder.

I can’t go five minutes without checking Twitter if I tried.  I’m constantly checking e-mails on my iPhone, even though nine times out of ten I just find more spam to delete. Sometimes I’ll swipe through Instagram, tap a couple pictures twice somewhat arbitrarily, then I’ll see what my friends have sent me on Snapchat. Just when I think I’m about to power down and do something you, know, productive, there’s another link that catches my eye.

One more click…one more click…one more click.

Have you ever closed out of Facebook on your laptop and immediately opened it up on your iPhone? Because I have — all the time.

I DON’T WANNA MISS A THINGGGGGGGGGGGGG

Let me quickly explain how I got here: I spent four years in college writing about my passion — sports. I was a creator of content. Looking back on it four years later, it wasn’t always the best content — but it was good enough to launch the career I’d always wanted for myself.

Then somewhere along the way, I stopped being a creator and became a consumer.

Here’s the thing about working in TV. A lot of people work on a show — executive producers, producers, segment producers, associate producers, production assistants, directors — and oh yeah…on-air talent. That’s a lot of people with a lot of ideas, and when you’re trying to fill a half-hour/hour-long show, you’re lucky if you bat .200 on any given day.

I’d probably say 90 percent of the information I consume every day is never put to use. I didn’t have the outlet for it. So it finally hit me — what if I cut back even a fraction of the time I spend looking for something interesting and try and make something myself?

I’ve tried to find ways to let my voice out again. It’s never really worked out the way I’d like. I ignored the single most common piece of advice any professional blogger has for wannabes: don’t worry about making money.

See, I wanted to make a business out of this writing thing. So I tried to find a niche — if anyone knows anything about me, they know it’s college football. There was only one problem — I’m pretty much paid full-time to produce creative and original content for college football. If I wasn’t dedicating 100 percent of the area of my brain marked “college football,” I was not doing my job.

Every time I’ve tried to start writing again, I’ve worried about everything but writing. What should I call the site? Do I need a logo? What should I write about? How many columns should my layout have? Way too much time spent worrying about things that just don’t matter.

I’ve finally decided to take the lid off. My newest project is called A Distraction a Day, and I have to credit Rembert Browne‘s former blog, 500 Days Asunder, for my inspiration. There came  a day where Rembert said he’d had enough and dedicated himself to writing a single blog post — no more, no less — for 500 days straight until he finished grad school. I’m no Rembert Browne, but when I read his description for the blog, it motivated me to at least emulate the idea on my own terms.

I have no idea which direction the site will go from here, I just know that I’m not trapping myself any longer. There will be plenty of sports, maybe some music (I have to put those 56,000 minutes I spent on Spotify last year to good use somehow), maybe some TV, maybe even politics. I’ll probably do some videos, hopefully start the podcast I’ve wanted to for years. The only thing stopping me is myself.

So…every day, a new distraction. All I really want is to keep myself from every other distraction. If I can distract you for a few minutes too, great. I’ll try to make it worth your time in the process. I know it will be worth mine.