Changing times on my 11-year anniversary at Yahoo Sports
On a Friday afternoon in the middle of April in 2007, I received a phone call from Nick Khan, whom I had a few months earlier hired to be my agent.
Khan is now with Creative Artists Agency and is one of the most powerful media agents in the business. He was working his way up in the media representation world then, though he still provided me wise counsel.
I’d hired him through somewhat of a fluke. More than a year earlier, I received a phone message from long-time boxing publicist Bill Caplan. I can still recall the message verbatim:
“Hi Kevin, this is Bill Caplan. Please call me as soon as possible. This could be very important for you future. Thanks. Bye.”
This was January of 2006, and I had to wonder how Bill was going to spin a story pitch into something that was important to my future. But when I called him, it was something totally unexpected.
Caplan called to tell me that he’d spoken to Dave Morgan, who was one of the sports editors at the Los Angeles Times. Morgan, whom I’d known of but hadn’t met personally at that point, had resigned from The Times and taken the position as editor of Yahoo Sports.
I didn’t know much about Yahoo Sports at the time, but Morgan had expressed to Caplan he was interested in hiring me as a boxing writer. This call came at a time when the newspaper industry first began to crater. There wasn’t much job security for anyone, something that, sadly, has only gotten worse with the passage of time.
So even before knowing much about Yahoo Sports, I was interested. After many voicemails I left for Morgan went unanswered, I finally heard back from him. He told me that he was building a staff, hiring writers for the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, colleges sports and, yes, boxing. He wanted me to be his boxing writer, and told me that he would hire me when the position was funded. He was vague on when that would be, but it was always “in a few months.”
Morgan became one of the best bosses I ever worked for, as he was a visionary with an ability to be inspirational. Spend a half-hour on the phone with him and you’d want to run through a wall for him.
Time passed, and passed, and passed, and passed. In the middle of the summer, I returned home from work at the Las Vegas Review-Journal to my landline phone ringing. It was Khan.
He represented another journalist, J.A. Adande, who had worked for Morgan at The Times. Khan and Morgan met to discuss the possibility of bringing the talented Adande from The Times to Yahoo Sports. He never did come to Yahoo Sports, though. Adande wound up at ESPN.
Apparently, though, during that conversation, Morgan mentioned his interest in me to Khan. Khan relayed that interest in me. And so whenever Khan met or spoke with Morgan, he would ask about his plans for me. The answer was always the same: I’m going to hire him. But I was impatient. As I began to study Yahoo Sports more carefully, and saw what was there, I couldn’t wait to begin.
I saw writers like Dan Wetzel, Adrian Wojnarowski, Charles Robinson, Tim Brown and many others on staff, and they were all stars in our business. I couldn’t believe that, at some point, I’d get to work shoulder-to-shoulder with them.
I’d first heard about this job in January 2006. Then it was June 2006. And then September. And then January 2007. And then March 2007. Always, the answer was the same: Patience.
Finally, with the Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather fight looming, Morgan began talks with Khan on a contract for me. In mid-April, Khan phoned me with the offer. We went over it in some detail.
When my wife came home from work, I told her about the offer and said I wanted to accept. She’s the smart one in the family, and she had some skepticism about this new place.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
I was, I said, and I planned to accept.
My first day at Yahoo was April 30, 2007. My first column was a piece on trainer Freddie Roach, who was in De La Hoya’s corner for the fight since Floyd Mayweather Sr., De La Hoya’s regular trainer at that point, couldn’t work against his son.
It was all new and exciting to me. I was working for a site with a vast reach alongside some of the greatest journalists — and as I’d come to learn later, people — in the world.
This was the future. Online sites such as Yahoo were going to take the baton from newspapers and run with it.
And, largely, it has. But there industry has continued to change, and now it’s not only journalists at newspapers who are either out of work or fearful of what seems like the inevitable staffing cuts. It’s online journalists, too.
ESPN has had two major staff reductions in the last year. I was sickened when I saw people celebrating their demise and their loss of a job. Some of the people who lost jobs I knew; others, I did not. But they were people with families, with mortgages, with children to raise and college to pay for and lives to live, and strangers online were celebrating their layoffs on social media. It still creates a feeling I don’t like when I think of people rejoicing over someone else’s major misfortune because they don’t like a sports story they’d read.
I got my first full-time job in media when I was still in college, so I’ve had a full-time job in journalism for nearly 40 years now. The job is vastly different in some ways. In 1979, I never had to worry about someone tweeting to me, or breaking news on Shots, or of online forums or Facebook or anything of the ilk.
But the underlying work has never changed: Get the facts correct. Get both sides of the story. Spell the names correctly. Be fair. Add perspective where possible to prove the reader with the fullest understanding.
In my four decades in this business, I’ve had experiences I’d never dared to even dream as a kid growing up in a suburb of Pittsburgh. I wanted to be a sports writer, or a play-by-play broadcaster, and it wasn’t uncommon for the 13-year-old me to lay on my bed and call an imaginary baseball, or football game. The Pirates or Steelers always won, of course, and it was always by some late-game heroics.
Since those days, I’ve gotten to meet presidents and world leaders. I’ve traveled to five continents, every state in the U.S., dozens of countries and too many cities to count.
I’ve ridden a camel in Abu Dhabi and posed for a photo with a Koala Bear in Sydney, Australia. I played golf in Memphis when NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West played through us, and I once was playing golf in Las Vegas with an ex-New York Islanders player in a group in front of Michael Jordan.
In 2002, I was in a plane that crashed in Big Bear Lake, Calif. Those of us on the plane were running through a dry lake bed to get away from it, because the wings were on fire. We’d made it a little bit away and it exploded. I not only lived to tell about it, but received a slew of calls from attorneys who wanted to help me sue.
The first time I met Muhammad Ali was long after his career had ended. A mutual friend introduced us. At the time, there were days when Ali could speak and days when he could not. On this day, he was seated when I approached him. He waved his hand for me to bring me head down toward him. He whispered in my ear, “You must be the greatest because of what my friend told me about you.” He smiled, patted me on the cheek and I was awestruck.
I’ve had the privilege to cover some of the biggest sporting events of my lifetime, and I still get excited and have butterflies whenever there is a major fight I’ll cover.
I never take for granted what a privilege it is to be at ringside and be able to relay what happened to my readers.
I was in awe not only of the many great journalists I worked with at Yahoo, but others I’d met along the way.
I’ll never forget meeting Sid Hartman, a legend in Minnesota journalism, at UFC 87 on Aug. 9, 2008, in Minneapolis. Hartman was 88 at the time of the event. Cruelly, many MMA fans mocked him for what he wrote. I saw it differently, though. Here was a guy who didn’t need to be at that event, whose job or livelihood didn’t depend on him covering his first mixed martial arts match.
He was old chronologically, but young at heart and he was at ringside with the rest of us and wrote about his impressions. Many MMA fans didn’t like what he wrote, and mocked him, but they missed the point of what he was doing.
He was trying to bring to his readers a story of interest, one that he didn’t know much about but which he knew as a reporter he could learn a little about, and entertain while giving his impressions.
I could only wish I had as much energy and enthusiasm and hustle at 58 as Hartman did that day at 88.
I’ve tried my best every day, as I have loved this business as long as I can remember.
Many people have a poor opinion of journalists these days, and that saddens me. We make mistakes — I’ve made more than my share — but they aren’t made because we are executing some hidden agenda, or trying to screw anyone’s hero, or exact revenge on someone we don’t like.
We make mistakes because we’re human, and we’re as fallible as the next guy. Every now and then, but extremely rare, is that journalist who is a fraud, who is making up news and who does have an agenda. They’re inevitably weeded out, though their actions damage the credibility of all those who work tirelessly in an effort to not only get the story, but to get it right.
I’m looking forward to the countdown toward my 12th anniversary at Yahoo, as excited by the job as I was on Day 1.
Thanks for reading me and helping me and pointing out when I was wrong or went off the rails.
I’ll embark on the next year as I always have in the previous 40, with a joy that I get paid to do this for a living and a commitment to try to remember that in journalism, the only thing that is sacred is the truth.