He’s a sportswriter with strong opinion and one one of America’s best sports storytellers.
Meet John Feinstein, who chats with host Kraig Kann in this edition of Tracks To Success and shares his journey to the Washington Post and his secret to finding his way to bookshelves with more than forty titles to his credit.
The relationships he treasures, the sports he loves to cover, the reason he’s still finding new chapters to add to his amazing career are all a part of this candid conversation. Feinstein opens up about his childhood, his love for journalism and his passion for certain sports with some great stories to share and some biting commentary mixed in.
Don’t miss this interview with an award-winning sportswriter,best-selling author and respected commentator who’s ready to tell all and deliver some words of advice for those who might follow his path.
Welcome to tracks to success brought to you by presentation partners. This is the podcast that brings you inspiring people and they're inspiring stories. How did they find their way to the top and how can their path help you do the same? Here's your host network, broadcaster, executive and entrepreneur. Craig can
Right now on tracks to success. You'll hear from one of the most well-read men in the world, a former college swimmer he's lapped so many in his field when it comes to number of books published, and it seems he's hardly finished. He's a former Duke student athlete whose bad break turned him to the school newspaper. He's rubbed arms with the likes of college basketball, legends, Bob Knight, and Mike Shashefski. He's spoiled golf fans with an unprecedented walk inside the ropes on the PGA tour. And he's got as much to tell about army and Navy as many who've worn their colors on the field of play.
2 (1m 13s):
Imagine being a columnist at one of the country's largest papers, sharing opinion on television and radio covering sports for some of the biggest magazines, and then see it all documented in one hardback after another, his name is John Feinstein, his inspiring story, and this edition of tracks to success starts. Now,
3 (1m 47s):
John, we've known each other for a, a little bit of time. Thanks so much for being a part of this podcast. I really appreciate it. Glad to do it. Craig going to be fun. This is my chance. As you can imagine, buddy, to ask you all the questions I never could. When we both worked at the golf channel, we had to talk about golf. So this is all about you. And when I say that, it's all about you. It is that make you comfortable or uncomfortable.
4 (2m 12s):
I've never been uncomfortable talking about myself. You can ask my wife.
3 (2m 17s):
That's awesome. Okay. I asked that because a lot of people, you know, while knowing a whole lot about themselves, don't feel comfortable talking about their story. They think nobody really sees the value in it. And yet your story, like many others has tons of value and you've helped so many people through what you do for a living. Would you agree with that? That people don't see value in their story?
4 (2m 40s):
I think we all see our stories differently than the outside world sees them. Maybe cause we know more about them than the outside world does. But I like to think that I am not so much of a narcissist that I think my story is more important than it is, but I also have been fortunate enough because what I do I do in a public forum as have you get, I get feedback that indicates to me that, that my work has had meaning for some people over the years. No question. I mean, if you're, if your subjects took that approach, you wouldn't have many people to write about in your books. Yes, exactly.
4 (3m 21s):
Right. And I, I have always been a believer that everybody does have a story to tell and you don't have to be rich and famous to have a story to tell. And that probably dates to my days, working for Bob Woodward at the Washington post is a night police reporter, where even though he was involved in arguably the most famous story ever, he understood that the, a lot of stories happened that didn't involve the rich, the famous or, or those in public office that were very valuable and had more worth than merit. So before I even go where I was going to go, why don't you tell that story? Well, the story that that defined it for me was when I, as I said, I was the night police reporter.
4 (4m 6s):
And one night I wrote about a three paragraph story on a car crash in Northeast Washington, a car had hopped the median and hit another car head on. There were two people in the car that was hit. All three of them ended up in DC, general hospital. Fortunately all were alive, but all were seriously injured. So I wrote three paragraphs the way you do it, you know, one, two o'clock in the morning. The next day when I came into work, Bob said to me, listen, I think there's a hell of a story there. If you go to the hospital and if you can talk to these three people and I said, what are you talking about? And he said, look, what were they doing at that moment? What happened that caused their lives to cross one another, go find out well in those days, Craig things were a lot different.
4 (4m 51s):
You could just walk into a hospital and say, what room is Craig cannon? Eight, six 42. So I went to the hospital, I had the three names I asked for their room numbers and I went to see each of them. And as it turned out, the guy driving the car that had hopped the median, was it Howard university law student who had been studying for a final and about two in the morning, decided to go home, get a couple hours, sleep and take a shout. While he fell asleep at the wheel, the median, the other, the car coming at him had a couple who had just learned that they were pregnant with their first child. And he worked at night shift. And when he got off work, they were going to drive.
4 (5m 31s):
They were driving to Baltimore to tell their parents the news. And they were actually holding hands at that moment and thanking God in a prayer for the child. Thank goodness Greg, the child did the child was okay. But all three of them told me their stories from their point of view and what had happened and what they thought at that moment. And I wrote the story. It ended up on the front page of the newspaper and the lesson was, again, you don't have to be on television every day to have a story to tell. And I've, I've always remembered that in covering sports, I've written a number of books. As you know, that weren't about the rich and famous in sports. I wrote a book on the army Navy football rivalry.
4 (6m 13s):
I did a book on PGA tour, qualifying school. I did a book on minor league baseball and I just recently earlier in March, had a book come out called the back roads to March, which is about players, coaches, teams at the lower levels of division one college basketball. I even went to division three to see Jim Calhoun who's coaching there now and their stories. And I, it was, it was great fun for me. It was a return to my, my early roots as a, as a sports writer. And somebody described it in a review as a love letter to college basketball. Perfect description. That's cool.
3 (6m 51s):
That's really cool. I want to get into those books specifically. I've got some written down that I want to ask you about before we do that. Let's go back to the story that is John Feinstein, New York city kid. Right? Tell me about your roots and how family influenced you that sent you on this path and this journey.
4 (7m 8s):
Well, the funny thing is my parents were both involved in the performing arts. My dad worked for a man named Saul Shamrock, who was a Russian infra Sario for lack of a better term. He brought in classical music, acts not acts really. I mean the Bolshoi ballet, the Mascoutah opera, my scout circus. He represented Arthur Rubinstein, Fontane, an array of people like that. And my dad was his number two, man. He started off basically as an office boy and worked his way up. My mom graduated from Smith and then got her PhD and music from Columbia and taught there.
4 (7m 49s):
And then later taught at George Washington. When my parents moved to Washington, when my dad got the job as the first general manager of the Kennedy center later ran the Washington opera and the national symphony at the same time, remarkable people. And interestingly, their oldest son, even though he was exposed to the performing arts, cause he had no choice. I grew up as a jock. I was a Mets fan. I was a Knicks fan. I was in a Rangers fan. I was a jets fan. Unfortunately, although I was alive for the one super bowl. There's a funny story about that involving my dad, the day of the suit in those days, the super bowl was played in the afternoon.
4 (8m 33s):
And my parents went to a concert that afternoon. And of course the jets were 19 point underdogs. And I used to pace up and down whenever the jets were playing. Cause I was coaching and my dad walked in at the end of the third quarter and he's curious, he said, so how are the jets doing? I said, dad, they're up 16, nothing. He said, really? He was shocked. And he sat down to watch, which he rarely so I'm pacing and he's watching. And my dad finally says, you're making me crazy, John six. I said, dad, I got a coach. He said, sit. So I sat down, Johnny United comes off. The bench takes the Colts 80 yards for a touchdown right away. My dad says, go ahead and pay stand. And of course the jets one 16 seven.
4 (9m 15s):
But so I was, I once wrote a magazine piece on my dad and my relationship with him. And it was called the Mets versus the met because my dad, we parents used to listen to the metropolitan opera broadcasts every Saturday afternoon while I was trying to listen to the mix. So that was, that was my boy hood. I was kind of a failed jock. I love to play sports. I realized by the time I was in high school, I was not going to be the point guard for the Knicks. And I wasn't a failed jock. John, you went to Duke, you swam. I was a decent, I was a good swimmer. I will say that. But I, my initial plan was to play center field for the mats or point guard for the Knicks.
4 (9m 56s):
I knew that wasn't gonna work out, but I was a decent swimmer. I was a recruited swimmer. I was also a pretty good baseball player. I could've played division three baseball, but I was recruited as a D one swimmer and went to Duke as a swimmer and broke my ankle freshman year, falling down a flight of steps, sober, very embarrassing. And a friend of mine in the dorm told me that the student newspaper was a good place to meet girls. And I'd always liked to write anyway. And he was right. It was a good place to meet girls. And that's how like my journalism career was launched. I guess we call that the big break. I mean, I don't know what else we say.
4 (10m 38s):
Yeah, that's true. That's true. So injury, by the way, did you get more girls? I met girls. That doesn't mean I'm not them, but I met them. Yeah. It gave you opportunity. They were there for that. Whether you could close the deal. That was your own thing. One of my, one of my first, my first female character, female protagonist when I started writing kids, mysteries was a girl named Susan Carol Anderson, who was a minister's daughter from Goldsboro, North Carolina. And my first big crush at the Chronicle was a girl named Susan Carol Robinson, who was a minister's daughter from Goldsboro, North Carolina and Susan Carol Robinson. And I are still friends and she loved the character because she's about five foot 10 and Susan Carol Robinson always wanted to be taught by the way, when you watch Michael Phelps swim, like does that bring back all these memories and surface, you were virtually identical.
4 (11m 35s):
When we swim butterfly, we both have two arms, two legs similarities end there, but I actually, I actually have a photo in my office because a good friend of mine from that I swim masters against other old people now good friend of mine from master swimming, swam at North Baltimore aquatic club, which is where Michael selves grew up. And I had met Michael a couple of times and he explained to Michael that I had actually been on a relay that broke a world record in our age group. So Michael signed a photo and it says to John Feinstein from one world record holder to another Michael Phelps. Wow. That's cool.
4 (12m 16s):
3 (12m 18s):
I'm totally getting off my own track here because I think that's so interesting. And I don't know that there've been that many books written about behind the scenes and you're really good at the behind the scenes taken us, you know, inside the ropes on the field, in the locker room, all that sort of stuff in the lane would be so cool to learn about what really makes a professional swimmer at his level, tick that other people simply can't do.
4 (12m 41s):
Yeah. And I actually did have conversations with Michael and his coach, Bob Bowman about possibly doing a book and the timing just never worked out. And at one point I thought we were going to get it done for London, which was originally going to be his last name. And then unfortunately Michael's agent got involved and you know what happens, Craig, when agents get involved, usually that's the end of the road and it turned out to be the end of the pool for Michael and me. I always liked Michael. I think he's a really good guy. I know he's had some issues in his life as we all have, but that would have been, I instead in, in, in one of my kids' books, the character, I mentioned Susan Carol, when I created her, I created her as a swimmer and she ended up going to the London Olympics.
4 (13m 27s):
And even though the book is fiction because of my own experiences as a swimmer and covering the Olympics, I think it does give you kind of an inside view of what it's like for an Olympian, even though I never swim anywhere near that level, obviously.
3 (13m 40s):
So you found your way to the Washington post, which you already kind of alluded to. A lot of our listeners don't really realize just how hard the journalism path actually is.
4 (13m 53s):
Why? Well, because I don't think anybody really understands the path of any profession. If you're not in the profession, you know, I call goydos my good friend on the PGA tour who, you know, I wrote about it extensively spoiled. One said to me, I can't imagine trying to write a book. I can't even imagine it. I said, Paul, I can't imagine breaking 70. We all do something. And I knew by my sophomore year in college, that this was what I wanted to do. And that was the year I read all the president's men. And like so many people in my age group at that time was inspired by that and was fortunate.
4 (14m 37s):
It was lucky to get a summer internship at the Washington post coming out of college. And the funny thing was my desk, the desk, they assigned me for the summer. It was about five feet away from what was then Woodward's office. And early in my internship, I quote unquote, broke a story on the soccer coach, the coach of the North American soccer league, Washington diplomats getting fired. And the main reason I broke this story was because nobody else cared, including I think is the coach's family. But it was, it was, it was late June Washington didn't have a baseball team at the time football camps hadn't opened yet.
4 (15m 18s):
So the sports editor stripped the story across the top of the sports page. Like it was a big deal. So that morning I was sitting at my desk and Bob Woodward walks out of his office, walks over to me, offers his hand and says, hi, John I'm Bob Woodward. And of course, what I really wanted to say was no blank. You're Bob Woodward like staring at him every time he walked by me for a week and a half by that. And I said that it's very nice to meet you. And he said, great job today on the soccer coach, Bob has a big Midwestern accent. And I choked, I think I said something to the effect of hummina hummina hummina and I realized soon after what I should have said was, Oh, thanks. Nice job on Watergate.
4 (16m 0s):
I ended up, I ended up at the end of the summer, there were no openings in sports, but they wanted to keep me around. They made me the night police reporter. And a few months later, the Metro editor became Bob Woodward and he became both my mentor and my friend and to this day is both of them. And just how lucky have I been to have him in my life for 40 years? No question. Everybody needs both of those things. John Feinstein is our guest on this edition of tracks to success. Tracks to success is brought to you by presentation partners, visual storytellers, passionate about connecting presenters with their audience. Alright, I'm looking this all up. How many books in total? I feel like I lost track after like 35.
4 (16m 43s):
Yeah. Well that's fair. But especially because my, my author page hasn't been updated for a while. Cause I'm no good at that sort of thing. But the back roads to March was my 42nd book, 42. Yeah. 29 nonfiction and 13 fiction and never a ghostwriter, always your own authentic self. And I mean, honestly, I'm going to jump way ahead of myself on some of the other questions I have, but how do you find the time? Which is what I do, Craig. I mean, I do other things. I still work for the Washington post. I did work for golf channel for a while for CBS sports radio.
4 (17m 25s):
I do about 30 games, a winter on television, mid major college basketball, which I really enjoy doing. But you know, I'll take a quick story that sums up my career and who I've been. And I think answers your question. I was doing a book on ACC basketball back in 1997. It was the last year Dean Smith coached in North Carolina and was playing Carolina in one of those classic Duke Carolina games in Cameron indoor stadium. And there were about 45 seconds left in the game. Duke was up one, had the ball and chef's be called timeout. And I was literally standing at the edge of the Duke huddle while she Shefsky drew up the play.
4 (18m 7s):
And I looked around and of course the place is going nuts. Everybody's on their feet. And I said to my, I had this chill and I said, I can't believe that not only I'm in a place that people would pay thousands of dollars to be, and someone is paying me to be here. How is that possible? And it was sort of a snapshot of what I've done all my life. I've been able to go places and know people that most, you know, I, I, Tom Watson and I run a charity golf tournament every year to raise money for ALS research. And one of the things we've auctioned off through the years for a lot of money is sitting on the bench for a Maryland basketball game or a Duke basketball game, or when Roy Williams wrote a North Carolina basketball game and we've gotten a lot of money for that because people love that kind of thing.
4 (18m 57s):
I can do that. Great. So how could I not love my job? My life? I wasn't good enough to make a career as an athlete. And I've been able to make a career writing about athletes and coaches and the people in sports.
3 (19m 13s):
Yeah. Those moments are special. I remember, you know, when tiger won in 97 and I was blessed to this day, I feel that way to be the guy that got to interview him in the locker room as the exclusive for golf channel. And you knew right then and there that it was going to be special and, and everybody was going to be, you know, excited, remembering that moment. You mentioned Shashefski, let's, let's talk about a different coach Bob Knight season on the brink. Your book really got you noticed, is that a fair assessment? That book really was what took your career to another level? No question. It was my first
4 (19m 45s):
Book and I, you know, I had, I think a pretty nice career going at the Washington post, but that book put me at a different level. And the most important thing it did for me, Craig, was it allowed me to pick and choose my topics going forward because believe it or not, five publishers rejected that idea, the feeling in New York, which is very much its own world. You remember the old new Yorker cartoon of the world was that Midwestern basketball coach. Nobody really cares. And fortunately, one, one editor, a guy named Jeff Newman at McMillan offered me $17,500 as an advance to do the book, which was a considerable pay cut for me at that point.
4 (20m 31s):
Cause I obviously had to take a leave of absence from the post, but I wanted to do it. And I thought it could be a great book with the access that Bob had said he would give me and went and did it. And since then, I've been pretty much able to choose the books that I wanted to write. And how lucky am I that somebody isn't coming to me and saying, do this, do that. I go and say, this is what I want to do. Yeah. That's pretty cool. You and night tight or what's that relationship like? Oh, I could write a whole book on that, Craig. He didn't be number 43. He didn't speak to me for eight years after the book came out because he had somehow decided that I had told them I would leave his profanity out of the book. When I specifically told him he couldn't write a book about him without taking seriously, because that's about 50% of his daily use of language.
4 (21m 19s):
And eight years after the book came out, I bumped into him in a hotel lobby in Hawaii of all places I was with Gary Williams, the Maryland coach challenge answer. And Bob started up a conversation like nothing had happened. And when, when we went in different directions, Gary said to me, after all the terrible things he said about you, cause he said some terrible things about me. Why would you even speak to him? I said, cause he built my house and we, you know, we've been hot and cold ever since then. I spent two hours on the phone with him when I was writing a book about read our back because he loved red. He's not well now, as you probably know, and I'm glad that the last time we crossed paths, the conversation was cordial because he certainly played an important part in my life.
4 (22m 8s):
Wow. Good walk. Spoiled tales from Q school. Golf's fifth major the majors in pursuit of golf's Holy grail, lots of golf in your resume. Is that your favorite sport? Now college hoops is my favorite sport. Craig, I, I enjoy covering golf for one thing. I enjoy the aesthetics of it. I just love being, you know, getting to watch great players and beautiful places. But also I had just written a book before I did a good walk, spoiled. They did a book called Hardcourts, which is about tennis did very well. It was number four on the New York times bestseller list, but I spent about 18 months with a migraine headache trying to deal with tennis players. And I, because of the success of the tennis book, I suggested a similar book to my editor.
4 (22m 52s):
Peter gathers at the time at random house on golf. And he said, but there are no stars in golf. This is pre tiger woods. And remember that was in the faceless clone era or call tennis obviously had McEnroe and Connors and Everett Nobert Lova players like that who were stars. And I said, I think people don't understand how hard it is to be successful on the golf tour. Any again, I had the flexibility that he said, all right, go do it. And I found from day one, Craig, that covering golf was 180 degrees different than covering tennis. My first long interview in that book was with Davis law and we were sitting in a condo at Kingsmill.
4 (23m 34s):
You remember the old tournament there and w we'd been talking for about two hours. And I looked at my watch. I said, Davis, how are you doing on time? This was on a Wednesday afternoon. And he said, well, you said you were writing a book. So I just blocked off the whole afternoon. I said, Oh my God, I've got died and gone to heaven. Wow. And that's, you know, you've been around
3 (23m 55s):
That's I know that's what, that's what makes them special. You know, I always found guys that play the sport with sticks, be it hockey or golf. They'll give you plenty of time and maybe differently about hockey players, but yeah, golfers are special. There's no doubt about it. I mean, there's no way that golf channel ends up where it is. If not for the crew of players that was on the tour at the time when the golf channel launched in 95, I mean, they, they drug it along with the help of Arnold Palmer and everybody knows that they wanted to do, do good things and give golf fish it's niche. And you are a part of that and it's special. It's just what it is.
4 (24m 33s):
Yeah, no, and, and again, it was, it was interesting to me, a lot of the golfers were, who didn't know me really were willing to talk to me because they were basketball fans. And I remember Curtis strain saying to me, I'll give you all the time. You want, as long as you tell me all you know about Bob Knight and, and know you remember Curtis was a reluctant interview most of the time, most of the time, but, but was terrific with me for the book. Nick foul was terrific. When I did a good walk, spoiled, he was, he was actually between marriages, which he has been often in his life, as you know, and we were having dinner one night in Columbus and these two very attractive women came up and basically said to Nick, anything you want, you just tell us.
4 (25m 17s):
And Nick was very polite and said, thank you. Thank you so much. This is my friend, John Feinstein. We're busy here, blah, blah, blah. So they go to the bar and a few minutes later, I got up to go to the bathroom and Nick grabs my arm and says, don't leave me alone. Cause he was afraid of what might happen. But you know, Nick has a very good off that off little bit off beat sense of humor. And I got to see some of that and I met <inaudible> and in a strange way, became the hero of the book. The first time I met him, he had shot 66, the first round of the Buick open. He was the only guy that went low in the afternoon. So they brought him into the interview room. I had nothing to do. I was waiting to meet Billy Andrade for dinner and I went in and just figured I'd listen.
4 (26m 1s):
And the first thing I ever heard him say, Craig was, I'm sure most of you have never heard of me. There's a reason for that. I've never done anything. And I said, I gotta meet this guy. Yup, yup. You know the rest well
3 (26m 14s):
And Faldo, you know, from the heart of my bottom, you know, his, his famous line to the media at the, at the open championship,
4 (26m 22s):
Fairly straight line on him. He said that fallow had to leave the Ryder cup early one year. Cause he was flying home to be present at the birth of his next wife.
3 (26m 34s):
Golfers can tell away, Oh my God, no questions. All right. So I'm going to read off a couple of the names of your books. You mentioned one of them that I had written down, which was Hardcourts another one play ball. We'll look at the 1992 major league baseball season where nobody knows your name, life in the minor leagues of baseball. Last dance behind the scenes at the final four and next man up a year behind the scenes in today's NFL a year, a year behind the lines and today's NFL, which was the story of the Oh four Oh five Baltimore Ravens. So I mentioned this early, I'm going to say it again. What I like about your books is that they take us inside. You know, all access is so big as you know, in everything.
3 (27m 14s):
And it doesn't matter if you're going to go talk to a CEO, you want to see how their company breeds, you know, how does it feel when you go in the office? What's the culture, what's the, what's the vibe, but that's what you give us with your books. Is that your mission?
4 (27m 28s):
Yeah, that's, that's always sort of been my Mo and again, it goes back to my days as a police reporter because I used to go on ride alongs with cops late at night. I was actually there the very first time a female, a police officer in Washington D C shot until the suspect. I still remember her name, Debbie wine Shimer. And what I learned from that was firsthand is always better than second or third hand. And being in a locker room is different than having someone come out of the locker room and say, coach set, it's different when you hear coach say it. And that's what season on the brink was all about. The reason season on the brink sold that well was because it was completely inside, but written by an outsider.
4 (28m 15s):
It wasn't like ball four where Jim Bouton was completely inside, but he was an insider or, or even, or, or even a paper lion, which George Clinton was an outsider, but it never went into the regular season. It ended at the end of the exhibition season. And this was the whole season from the inside written by an outsider. And I learned from that, that the more access you can get to people and to places the better off you are, I've always thought if I ever sit down and write my, my memoir, it's going to be called authorized personnel only because that's where I've spent so much of my life in places I'm not supposed to be.
4 (28m 57s):
And you know, in 1984, I covered the, a guy named Jeff Blatnick at the Olympics. And he was a Greco Roman wrestler who had come back from cancer to make the Olympic team. And nobody, you know, Americans don't cover Greco, Roman wrestling. And I happen to read a little squib about him and in the daily report. And I said to my boss, George Solomon, I want to go cover this guys. He's wrestling for the gold medal. And my boss had adds just a bleeder. Nobody's gonna read it. You know, don't waste your time, take the night off. And I decided I'm covering the Olympics. Why do I want to take a night off? So I went to Anaheim and I was Greg. I was the only American reporter in the building and the guy running the venue, Butch, who was the Sid at Arizona at the time was so glad to see an American.
4 (29m 46s):
And he broke all the rules for me. Blatnick won the gold medal, cried on television, on his knees after the final whistle. And Butch said to me, come with me and he walked me past the door that said authorized personnel only. So the place where Jeff was inside being drug tested and his parents were out there introduced me to the parents. And the parents started telling me about how Jeff had an older brother who'd been killed in a car accident. Then they dealt with the terror, Jeff's hands cancer. And as we're talking, Jeff walks out and he's got the gold medal around his neck and he takes the gold metal off and he puts it around his mother's neck. And it was hard for me to write that night, Craig, cause it was hard to write when you're crying.
4 (30m 29s):
And the story again, ended up on the front page of the Washington post and another example. I mean, if Butch hadn't walked me back, there were reporters weren't supposed to be. I'd never seen that scene. Yeah.
3 (30m 39s):
You know, I went to the Olympics and in 16 in Rio, I was fortunate to be on a communications committee for golf, bringing golf back to the Olympics. And when I went there, I actually sure I was at the golf course every day, but I also went and saw weightlifting the big guys, I went and saw a water polo, the, the gold medal event of water polo table, tennis team, table tennis. I saw diving, I saw volleyball and people said, wow, that's so cool. You're going to all those things. And I was like, yeah. And I saw you saying bolt run as well. The reason why is I didn't want to come back only being able to tell people about golf. I wanted to experience all the time. Correct. And it's, it's that type of storytelling that you're able to do.
3 (31m 21s):
My F my favorite thing there was seeing Brazil and Argentina play volleyball against one another. I mean, unbelievable rivalry. People would have no idea how big that could be. The place was packed. And to see you saying bolt run was like watching. Who knows what? I mean? It was, it was fascinating. You take me inside army Navy, cause you've done it as well as anybody. And I know it's something that you have an incredible passion for.
4 (31m 47s):
I do. And it really goes back to when I was a kid growing up in New York, my parents would take me up to West point once a fall to see a game in Mikey stadium. And if you haven't been to a football game and Mikey, Mikey stadium, you got to put it on it on your bucket list. And to show you that it's not just my bias in 2000, when everybody was doing all those end of the millennium stories and the top 10, this top 10, that sports illustrated ranked the top 10 venues in the world in sports. And number one was Yankee stadium. Number two was Augusta national. Number three was Mikey stadium. So it's not just me. And my bias is saying that when I, I, the first time I ever went to an army Navy game was in 1990.
4 (32m 32s):
I was working for the national sports daily, trying to Ford's 16 months experiment that sadly failed because of finances. But I'd written a story during the week about what the game meant to the players and then went to the game. And at the end of the game, Craig, I saw the two teams walking together to stand in front of the brigade of midshipmen army had won the game. And I said to somebody what's going on here, because in those days they did not show the playing of the Alma maters on television. They would just race off to the next event. And so I had no idea and I see the players standing together for the Navy Alma mater. Then they cross the field and they play the army Alma mater. And I was, again, I was choked up just watching.
4 (33m 14s):
And I said, I want to know more about these kids. Who are they? Why did they go to army? Why did they go to Navy? What is the sport means to them? What does the game mean to them? And it took me five years to get the cooperation I needed and the access I needed. And when I did the book, I think to this day, I'm the only person who was not a president of the United States, who was in both locker rooms during the course of the game, which is a pretty cool thing. But the game was a great game. It ended with army driving, 99 yards converting a force at 24 to win the game 14, 13. And to this day, it was the most draining day I've ever had as a reporter. Cause I didn't want either team to lose.
4 (33m 54s):
Right. And I'm still close. I always want to say the kids with the men on those teams, it's been 25 years. Many of whom deployed, one of them died overseas, but we're still all close. I was invited to both of their 20th anniversary reunions. And the best thing about it was when I proposed the book, both my agent and my publisher at the time, ran screaming from the room. Nobody's gonna read that book, army and Navy don't matter anymore. And I said, yeah, they matter because of who plays in the game, not because of what they're ranked or not rank. And the book became a best seller. And, and, and so that people say, you know, what's your favorite book?
4 (34m 35s):
It's like trying to pick your favorite child. But army Navy is certainly right up there might, it might very well still be number one.
3 (34m 43s):
I've got a few things that I want to run at you before our time is up and more of a, I don't want to say rapid fire, but let me throw some things at you fairly quickly. Number one, most of our listeners, right? They go to work every day. They work for somebody else. You do both or have done both right time management. How long does a book take you? And I know there's probably different times for different books, but on average, how long does it take you to write a book?
4 (35m 6s):
Oh, well the whole process nonfiction is usually 12 to 18 months because I'll spend a year doing the reporting and then maybe four to six months, again, depending on the subject, depending on the deadline, we'll try to get it out for Christmas or father's day, whatever it might be. But four to six months when I write fiction, because I don't, the research is my career is my life. It's usually for four to five months.
3 (35m 32s):
So when you do this, are you at home? Do you leave the, okay, so you just lock yourself up in your room.
4 (35m 39s):
I have an office in the house where I work. Yes. Do they know not to bother you? What does your family say? No. To leave you alone, to be honest, they don't, but it's okay. I'm fortunate because since I've been a newspaper guy for so long interruptions, don't bother me. I can, I can get back to working. And you know, I have a nine year old daughter who comes into the office a lot and I'll stop and I'll play with her or do something with her and then I'll go back to work. What do you do in your alone time? Aside from swim against older guys, a lot of reading, I watch a lot of sports on television and I, I'm probably on about my fifth runthrough of watching all seven seasons of the Westwind.
4 (36m 20s):
Cool. Cool. You've got a list of books and achievements in my along what, or who has influenced you the most? Well, it it's, it's other reporters. I, I mentioned Bob Woodward. He would certainly be at the top of the list. David Martinez, who wrote the great book when pride still mattered, won a Pulitzer prize for his coverage of bill. Clinton has been a close friend and a mentor and a huge influence on me. The two guys who were the columnist at the Washington post, when I first got there, Dave Kendra, who I'm sure, you know, great writer and the late Ken Denlinger, who was a great columnist and a great person. And they both really took me under their wing and tried to convince me not to commit professional suicide by yelling at editors every day, which I had a pension for doing a you've seen me get upset with, with people telling me what to do when I think they're wrong.
4 (37m 16s):
So you can imagine what I was like at 21, but those guys were all huge influences on me and, and a woman named Lexie Verdun, who I was an intern with. Who's an editor and Lexi was sort of my unofficial editor for many years while we were still both working at the post. And we're still good friends. How many presidents she interviewed and who stands out interviewed, let's see Bush won Clinton. I never interviewed Obama. I met him, but I never interviewed him. I, it same with Bush too. So I guess that's the list.
4 (37m 59s):
And the, the, the funny story about Bush one who is as nice demand as I ever met in my life. And I never voted for him, but his speech writer when he was vice president was a guy named Peter Tilley, who was later his ambassador to Canada when he was president and Peter and I together ran a charity golf tournament here in Washington, excuse me, charity basketball tournament here in Washington for about 20 years, I was his Democrat. He was my Republican and Pete, every time I had a book out would have me sign it to president Bush and then he'd send it to him. And I'd get back to the handwritten note from the president, thanking me for the book and saying how much he was looking forward to it.
4 (38m 40s):
99 Ryder cup. You remember tiny the old security guy security guy, and he's on the door for the PGA of America. And let's just say tiny, who weighed about 400 pounds. Wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed. Barbara Bush wants to go into the media center to see Dan Jenkins. Cause the bushes were close friends with Dan and tiny standing there going well. Ma'am I don't know. I don't think you have the proper credential to go in there. And the secret services right on the verge. I think of arresting him and I walked up and I said, tiny, this is Barbara Bush. She used to be first lady of the United States. I don't think the PGA is going to have a problem if she goes in there to see Dan and tiny standards still shaking his head.
4 (39m 23s):
And well, I just don't know at which point president Bush walks up now, tiny did recognize him. And at that point we're all kind of swept in. And as we're walking in I'm with president Bush, he would see me talking to tiny and he's thanking me. And I said, mr. President, you and I have a mutual friend, Peter Teeley and he starts pointing at and he goes, great writer, great writer, great, Bart, come here, come here. Great writer. And I'm starting to say, thank you and get embarrassed. And he goes, I love Friday night lights. And I said, so did I? I didn't write it.
1 (40m 0s):
Awesome. In addition to hosting this podcast, Craig leads the Cannes advisory group focused on elevating communication for companies and individuals, company consulting and powering team and individual workshops, mind altering webinars. And Craig's inspiring keynotes for your conference or company meeting. They're all on the menu of services. Can advisory helps companies clarify their message helps professionals build and showcase their brand and helps everyone present their best selves. So if you're the leader of a team or companies looking to give your employees a game changing one day experience or an individual who wants to become a speaker and presenter that gets other people talking visit Ken advisory.com.
1 (40m 55s):
And when you do connect, make sure to mention the tracks to success podcast, to receive a special discount on any of the candidates advisory services. That's can advisory.com. Now back to the interview.
4 (41m 11s):
Alright, couple comfortably, quick things. Your favorite coach or athlete that you interviewed that stands out well athlete they're there. They're there. It's hard to say one, but certainly Rory McIlroy is right at the top of the wow. Real I'm Oh yeah. I've often said that I have a 22 year old daughter and I was trying to set her up with Rory for a number of years before he first got engaged and then got married. I, I just think Roy gets it. I mean, he's so damn bright and he's, he's a very good person. And a again, quick funny story. I know I'm supposed to be short here, but in 2014 I brought my wife and my then three year old Jane to the U S open in Pinehurst and you know, the little pub in the Carolina in right off the last we're having dinner in there and it's packed.
4 (42m 4s):
And Rory comes walking in with his dad and you could see the manager's losing his mind. Rory McIlroy is in there and he doesn't have a table. And Jerry McElroy being the way he is just don't. Don't worry about it. We'll go wait in the lobby. When you have a table, come and get us. No big deal. Rory walked over to the table, but to say hello. So I introduced him to my wife, Christine, and to Jane. And as they said, Jane was three Rory walks around the table, gets down on one knee so he can be at Jane's eye level. And he says, so Jane what'd you do today? And Jane says, Oh my mommy. And I went swimming. And then we went shopping and I bought a new dress that I love. And Roy shot one over part of that day. And he says, he says, well, I kind of wish I'd gone with you.
4 (42m 45s):
And Jane comes right back and says, well, you can go with us tomorrow if you want. And Roy says, you know, I just might do that. And they chat another minute or so gets up nice to see you and walks away. And I saw, I said to my wife, I said, you know, 20 years from now, Rory gets through the first marriage. Maybe Jane, Christine, Christine says, hell would that I'll marry him. So that Rory is just a class likable. So likable Mike Shefsky, I've known since he was the coach at army. And he's just forget about how the fact that he's he's at worst, the second best coach in history behind wooden he's, he's a better person than he is a coach.
4 (43m 28s):
And again, quick story to show you who Mike is. My dad died on Superbowl Sunday in 2006 and two nights later, Duke played at Carolina. That was the day of the funeral. And I got home just as the game was starting. You can imagine I was exhausted and worn out. And I sat down in my chair to watch the game fell, sound asleep, didn't see anything until there was about a minute left. When I woke up, Duke ends up winning the game close game. And by now I've been asleep for almost two hours. I'm wired. I know I'm not going to sleep. So I sat down at my computer to try and catch up on some work and the phone rang and a voice said, I figured you'd still be up with Shefsky. And I said, Hey, great, win, congratulations.
4 (44m 10s):
And he says, I just want you to know that when I stepped into that last huddle with 30 seconds to go, I looked up at the sky and I said, Martin, this one's for you. I didn't even know how you knew my dad's name, but that's who makes you chefs. He is. And that's why I talk about how lucky I've been to know the people that I've known in sports through the years. I would
3 (44m 33s):
Not be doing my job on this. If I didn't ask one of the great journalists of all time, if journalism is dying,
4 (44m 39s):
No, it's not dying. Newspapers are dying. And, and, and I I'm old enough, Craig, I still sit at the kitchen table every morning and read the Washington post and the New York times while I drink my coffee. But my, my wife, who's 19 years younger than I am never reads the paper. My children, I don't think I've ever read a paper, but they still read. They just read on the internet and they read in different places. And I still believe there's an important role for good journalism to clay and even more so now, maybe than ever, because so much of what we get now is that snapshot is, is ESPN claiming that they have inside information because you know, somebody rolls an ankle and everybody's an insider now.
4 (45m 29s):
And really nobody's an insight. And so I think doing good journalism, trying to commit good journalism is probably more important now than it's ever been. Partly cause it's harder now than it's ever been.
3 (45m 41s):
Yeah. Yeah. Because everybody thinks they're a journalist. Everybody thinks they're a media member y'all gotta have is a cell phone. It's so different. Yeah. I'm glad to hear you say that. I am glad to hear you say that. I feel the same way. And I just wanted to make sure without giving you my thought first that I'd hear what you had to say on that. Okay. This podcast is called tracks to success and I like to help people find their own path, their own journey. And there's ups, there's downs, all that stuff. What's one piece of advice you'd give to anybody. Who's trying to break into the business of covering sports for a living.
4 (46m 18s):
Don't just do sports or early in your career. Learn how to cover other things. Some of the best lessons I ever learned as I've referenced, as we've talked here, came from covering cops, covering courts, covering politics, having covered when you cover the real world. As I did going into a losing locker room is never hard again, because it gives you a different perspective. I had to knock on the doors at times of families who had just lost a child and, and believe it or not, people frequently want to talk in those situations. Cause it's cathartic. You don't know until you knock on the door.
4 (46m 58s):
That's why they tell you to go knock on the door. Believe me, it was never my idea. But when you've done that going into a losing locker room or dealing with an athlete, who's just had a bad day. Is it isn't that difficult? And again, I go back to Rory after that last round of the masters in 2011, when he shot 80 with a four shot lead stood there and answered every question. And I'll never forget him saying if this is the worst thing that ever happens to me in my life, all I've had a pretty good life. What a, what a perspective. And we need more athletes without that perspective. And we need more reporters with that perspective who don't think that some catastrophe has happened because tiger woods misses a cut.
4 (47m 39s):
It's not that big a deal. It's your job to report on it, go report on it.
3 (47m 44s):
Yeah. There's no such thing as a bad question, in my opinion, but there's definitely a bad answer. And athletes and others executives, they gain so much more when things are difficult by standing up there and answering those questions than they do by running away and talking only when the good things are happening. I don't think everybody realizes that
4 (48m 4s):
Well, you're, you're a hundred percent right. And what I've always what I always say to people, you know, cause I've been in lots of situations where I have to go ask hard questions of people after they failed or after they've done something wrong. And a lot of times the initial reaction is I don't want to talk to you, which I understand. And what I always say is you're going to do better telling your side of the story than not telling your side of the story. And, and unless you lie to me and nine, sometimes people don't care. They just say, I'm not talking or they're lawyers advise them not to talk, whatever. That's why I think agents are a Cox cause agents always tell people not to talk or not to answer questions. And you know, that's why throughout my career, I have done everything in my power to not deal with agents.
4 (48m 51s):
Because if you deal with an agent, the answer is going to end up being no, a lot of the time, if you go directly to the source more often than not, they'll talk to you.
3 (49m 1s):
We're all blessed to be able to do what we do. I'll tell you the quick story. I was 22 years old, first job out of college, Columbus, Georgia, ABC affiliate as a reporter news to go back to your point about doing other things, trying to find my way into sports. And I was also my own videographer. And one of the news stories I got to go on had to go on was a major, major months in the process drug bust. And I was in the cop car with the guys busting in on a bunch of people. I was scared for my life. I'll always remember it. And I, and now feel so fortunate to be doing what I'm doing. Cause I've seen truly seeing the other side of a lot of things.
3 (49m 42s):
You're very fortunate to do what you've done. You've impacted a whole lot of people. You've got a new book. You mentioned it once. Mentioned it again. How can they buy it? Where do they go?
4 (49m 51s):
I call the back roads to March. And as I said, it's really a Chronicle of players and coaches who aren't on ESPN. As I said, there's not a single kid in this book who Dick Vitale ever calls a diaper dandy, but they have really wonderful stories to tell. As I said, somebody described the book as a love letter to college basketball. And that's really what it is. Cause I love college hoops. And I love the stories that make college hoots. And I don't mean nothing against the kid, but I don't mean Zion Williamson, who seemed to be the entire college basketball season. Last year I was writing about kids like Jordan Fox from army, who came from a tiny town in Kentucky where nobody went to college and he was planning to enlist in the army when he graduated from high school.
4 (50m 37s):
Cause that's what kids did coming out of that town and armies coach. Jimmy Allen said, I got a better idea. Why don't you come play basketball for four years at West point and then be an officer in the army. And he had a 3.7, six GPA at army average, 12 points, a game as a senior was a very good player. And now he's serving our country in the army. That to me is a better story than who's Zion, Williamson signs, his sneaker contract with.
3 (51m 2s):
Yeah. And I feel for those kids at Dayton that didn't get to play in the NCAA tournament this year, essentially a number one seed. Cause mid-majors never get that chance. It seems like my son's best friend Fletcher McGee played at Wofford three point shooting guy. Mid-major school achieved so much amazing. Unbelievable. And, and that's the beauty of college sports right there. It's not always the big stars, the big schools and all that. You provide that perspective. John we've been friends for a while. It's been an honor for me to work with you. Sit beside you on the set and this has been a thrill ride for me. Thank you so much for the time,
4 (51m 37s):
Greg. Thanks for doing it. I appreciate all your research before we talked and I will never forget that night at the masters when you probably prevented me from getting fired.
2 (51m 48s):
Hopefully I did that for a few people and maybe some people did it for me, John. Thanks so much. Take care, Craig. My pleasure. Thanks in our conversation. John shared stories about being in locker rooms and press boxes as an observer and a storyteller, which leads me to my one last thing. If you want to be an influencer, find a way to share your experiences. Don't just keep them to yourself. This all starts with making notes along the career journey. No matter how many years we've been doing whatever we've been doing, we all have stories to tell and those stories can be quite helpful to others as they climb the ladder behind us as younger professionals, if you're on social media, what are you sharing?
2 (52m 37s):
If you blog, what are you posting about our experience? No matter how many failures come along with our successes is our greatest gift to others. Someone out there can relate and people love a good story. Building a brand requires delivering value stories that can help others. So take some time, make some notes at each stop who's influenced you. And who have you influenced what happened to you and what happened for you? It's time, build your own story, do that. And your tracks to success become a whole lot more meaningful. I'm Craig can thanks so much for listening.
2 (53m 21s):
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1 (53m 26s):
Storytellers, passionate about connecting presenters with their audience. Don't forget to subscribe to the show for more great interviews and thoughts on reaching your highest personal and professional summit. You can follow Craig on Twitter and Instagram using the handle at Craig can and for exclusive tracks to success, content and news about our upcoming guests, you can find tracks to success on Twitter. It's at tracks to success.